Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

opera by Richard Wagner

Performed in German (the performance will have synchronised Russian and English supertitles)

Premiere of this production: 21 July 2023

Running time 5 hours 45 minutes
The performance has two intervals

Age category: 12+


Music and libretto by Richard Wagner

Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director: Konstantin Balakin
Set Designer: Elena Vershinina
Costume Designer: Elena Vershinina
Lighting Designer: Irina Vtornikova
Video Designer: Sergei Nekozyrev
Choreographer: Alexander Sergeev
Musical Preparation: Marina Mishuk
Principal Chorus Master: Konstantin Rylov


Set in the mid-16th century Nuremberg

Act I
The first act unfolds in St Catherine's Church, where a mass is concluding. Among the congregants is Eva, the daughter of the wealthy jeweler Veit Pogner, accompanied by her nanny, Magdalene. The young knight Walther von Stolzing, smitten with Eva, confesses his feelings to her. Eva reciprocates his affection but reveals that according to her father's will only the winner of the Meistersinger (masters of song) competition, scheduled for the next day's St John's Day celebrations, can win her hand in marriage. Eager to compete, Walther, unfamiliar with the customs and traditions of the Meistersingers, finds himself at a loss. David, Magdalene's admirer and apprentice to one of the most respected singers, the cobbler Hans Sachs, attempts to elucidate the intricate rules of composing verses and music to the knight. Meanwhile, the Meistersingers, all artisans of the town, gather in the church. Among them are Eva's father, Sachs, and the town clerk Sixtus Beckmesser, who also aspires to marry Eva. Pogner reminds everyone of his decision: Eva is to marry the victor of the Meistersinger contest, or if she rejects him, remain unmarried. The Meistersingers endorse this decision but reject Sachs's proposal to entrust the selection of the winner to the people. Walther, unknown to the master singers but advocated for by Pogner, requests to join their guild. He is given a trial: to become a Meistersinger he must perform a song. His performance, though heartfelt and impassioned, fails to comply with the established norms and fails to win favor. Beckmesser, with malicious glee chalks up Walther's errors on a board, one after another. Only Sachs appreciates Walther's rendition but cannot sway the opinion of the other masters – Walther is denied entry.

Act II
The second act takes place late in the evening and throughout the night preceding the festival. The houses of Pogner and Sachs are situated side by side. Magdalene learns from David about Walther's failure and shares this news with Eva. Sachs, engaged in his usual work, reminisces about Walther's stirring song. When Eva visits him, he informs her that Beckmesser intends to win the next day's competition. Eva, discontented with this outcome and doubtful of Walther's victory, admits she wouldn't mind if Sachs himself were to win. Knowing Eva since her childhood, Sachs feels only paternal love for her and feigns criticism of Walther to reveal her true feelings for the knight. Walther soon appears and suggests that Eva run away with him, for which she would need to switch clothes with Magdalene. Overhearing their conversation, Sachs decides to foil their plan while simultaneously aiding the lovers.
Beckmesser arrives at Pogner's house, intending to serenade Eva under her window, unaware that Magdalene has taken her place. Sachs, still awake and working, sings himself, and when Beckmesser begins his serenade, Sachs loudly hammers on a sole every time Beckmesser makes a mistake. Suddenly, David attacks Beckmesser, mistakenly thinking that the clerk is courting Magdalene. The noise awakens other residents of the street, and a brawl ensues. Sachs thwarts Eva and Walther's attempt to flee amidst the chaos, and the night watchman, blowing his horn, interrupts the scuffle.

On the festive morning David seeks forgiveness for his involvement in the night's brawl and wishes his teacher, Sachs, a happy birthday. Alone, Sachs reflects on the prevailing madness in the world. Walther, who spent the night at Sachs's home, recounts a wondrous dream he had. Sachs suggests turning this dream into a song and encourages the knight, helping him arrange the verses and transcribing the text. When Walther leaves to dress in his festive attire, Beckmesser arrives to collect his shoes. Spotting the freshly written song and assuming Sachs to be the author, Beckmesser attempts to steal it. Sachs catches him and, claiming not to be competing, generously hands over the song but warns Beckmesser of its complexity. Shortly after, Eva arrives to have her shoes repaired. Witnessing his beloved, an inspired Walther sings his song anew, now even more refined. Torn between her feelings for Walther and her affection for Sachs, Eva ultimately sees Sachs gracefully concede to the younger knight and bless his performance. Sachs informs David that he is now a journeyman, eligible to marry Magdalene.
The festival takes place on the banks of the Pegnitz River, attended by all the craft guilds. Sachs's arrival sparks universal admiration. Beckmesser sings first but bungles the song mixing up the words comically, earning only ridicule. He accuses Sachs of deliberately giving him a flawed text and storms off in anger. Sachs then invites the audience to hear Walther. The knight's hymn in praise of love unanimously wins him the contest and the mastersingers are ready to welcome him into their guild. Walther initially refuses, content with winning Eva's heart. However, Sachs convinces him to accept the accolade and uphold the duty of a master to preserve the grand German art and spirit. The crowd once again lauds Sachs as Nuremberg's treasure.

Feit Pogner, a jeweler in Nuremberg, stirred the entire city with his daring proposal: only a mastersinger, a master vocalist, could marry his beautiful daughter Eva, the Grand Prix winner of a vocal competition. For her, Knight Walther von Stolzing is ready to become a burgher and master the intricacies of the singing craft. Natural talent and inspiration are not enough; one must also learn to create following the rules! Walther fails his first external exam, leaving him just one day to learn the art of mastersong, a process that takes others years of study. Fortunately, Nuremberg is home to the famous cobbler-poet Hans Sachs. A single lesson from this brilliant teacher is all the equally brilliant student needs to create a song that will bring victory and happiness. Of course, it’s a song about her – about Eva, who has become his muse. The masterpiece’s recipe includes two essential components: solid training + inspiration.
Knowing the rules of composition alone is insufficient. Beckmesser, the main theorist of mastersong, is utterly barren as a practitioner. Creating as the spirit moves, like Walther before meeting Hans Sachs, is also not the way. A true artist knows and relies on tradition while simultaneously moving forward.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg stands apart from Wagner's other operas with their medieval romanticism and redemptive ideology. The robust, healthy, major-key music of this work neither oppresses nor intoxicates: it’s an opera-celebration with a grand apotheosis in the finale. To create "The Mastersingers," an art piece about art, Wagner diligently studied numerous historical sources on mastersong and German artisan culture, generously sharing his knowledge with the audience. All twelve names of the mastersingers are authentic, and the ingenious names of the "tones" (exemplary melodies) are historically accurate (their enumeration alone is fascinating, with titles like "fennel," "calf," "tone of the deceased wolverine," "tone of the faithful pelican," and a couple of dozen more in this vein). One of the opera's main "characters" is Nuremberg itself, the beautiful 16th-century city, fragrant with elderflower and linden. It seems Wagner brought all its inhabitants onto the stage: the sprightly, mischievous apprentice boys, the perpetually hungry journeymen craving female attention, the dignified and prosperous merchants and craftsmen. The city's inner masculine energy might even lead to a general brawl, especially on the eve of St John the Baptist's festival. Then, only women and the "hand of authority" – the night watchman – can restore order in the unfolding chaos.
Wagner dedicated "The Mastersingers" to the Bavarian King Ludwig, his fervent admirer. The king expected another "knighty and epic" opera but received a comedy instead: Wagner, as they say now, "broke the stereotype about himself." This Wagner, the comedic playwright, the smiling Wagner – though still instructive – was previously unknown and a much-needed addition to the Mariinsky Theatre's collection. The final link in the theatre’s Wagnerian collection is an opera by Wagner about himself: in the character of Hans Sachs, the composer saw his alter ego and even signed letters with this name. At the opera's very end, the people applaud, waving handkerchiefs and hats, and unanimously exclaim, "Long live Hans Sachs!" In other words: "Long live Richard Wagner!" Christina Batyushina

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