Of all Wagner's mature operas, I'm least familiar with Die Meistersinger. It's the only Wagner opera post-Lohengrin the score of which I've neither owned nor studied. Truth be told, while I on very first hearing recognized instantly the masterwork that from first note to last Meistersinger indisputably is, the opera is simply too diatonically sunny for my, shall we say, darker sensibilities, and I could never quite curl myself around it, nor enter into its depths as I have with Wagner's other mature operas. That notwithstanding, along with tens (hundreds?) of thousands of others, I enjoyed immensely the live radio broadcast of the Met's presentation of Die Meistersinger this past Saturday. It was, by and large, a top drawer performance, and one would be hard-pressed to find serious fault with it.
And yet what? Perhaps the best way I can express what I mean by that and yet is to say that Saturday's Met performance was a top drawer re-creation of a top drawer Meistersinger as opposed to its being the real thing, so to speak.
And what might the real thing be? I confess I wasn't quite sure before yesterday (Sunday) afternoon when I heard through for the first time the Wieland Wagner-Hans Knappertsbusch 1952 Bayreuth Die Meistersinger. With due allowance made for the Bayreuth's '50s mono audio, and leaving aside comparisons between individual singers in the two readings (such as, for instance, the Met's Johan Botha and Bayreuth's Hans Hopf in the role of Walther von Stolzing; Botha turned in a fine Walther Saturday, but his fundamentally Italianate dramatic tenor pales by comparison with the rich, seemingly effortless baritonal heldentenor of Hopf), what struck me almost immediately about the Kna reading was its almost preternatural naturalness musically and dramatically. Nothing the slightest bit forced. Nothing the slightest bit strained. Not the slightest whiff of "the smell of opera" about it anywhere in the pit or on-stage.
Whomever might have directed the Met's Meistersinger, I suspect he's no match for Wieland Wagner in that capacity, and much as I admire and am impressed with the Wagner conductor James Levine has lately become, he's no match for Knappertsbusch in that capacity — few conductors are — and Kna makes this score in its musical and dramatic totality come alive in such a way that the experiencing of it was for me almost Damascene — so much so that I'm now for the first time contemplating purchasing the full score of Meistersinger, and immersing myself in it as completely as I have with the other mature Wagner operas. Should I actually act on that impulse, I prophesy that after a few months study of the work this blog will fast become glutted with disquisitions on Meistersinger that suggest I imagine I'm the very first to have discovered the work and understood it.