Meistersinger. Berlin State Opera, March 16th 2008. Director: Harry Kupfer. Cast: James Morris (Hans Sachs), René Pape (Pogner), Dorothea Röschmann (Eva), Roman Trekel (Beckmesser), Burkhard Fritz (Walther). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim.
You may or may not like James Morris´ long legato-lines and somewhat passive approach to Hans Sachs, well known from the Metropolitan Opera, on DVD as well. However, in this Meistersinger at the Berlin State Opera he was in excellent voice, much better than in anything I have heard of him from the Met in at least 5 years: No wobble and with a secure, firm tone. Part of the explanation probably being the small size of the house, but I also suspect he may quite simply have been in fine form. In brief, an excellent Hans Sachs with plenty of worldliness and wisdom. And for those reasons, though I fully understand that some may disagree with this assessment, I was genuinely surprised that anyone (luckily only a few, but they were quite loud) would disagree to the extent of booing him. The majority, however, did applaud.
Whenever the subject of Morris´ Sachs came up during the intervals, people kept voicing their disappointment that René Pape had cancelled his originally scheduled Sachs in this production. As well as disliking Morris diction (which I honestly think is quite good) and accusing him of lack of understanding of the character (with which I simply do not agree).
And as regular readers will know well, few bigger admirers of René Pape exist than myself, however since he cancelled this Sachs almost a year ago, even I have managed to get past that disappointment, and accordingly I found the treatment of Morris quite unfair. But then - what do I know? Sachs is a German national icon, and as a non-German, my opinion, of course, counts for very little.
But I´ll have to add that sometimes, some of the operagoing public in Berlin really are among the worst in the world.
Biggest applause among the singers (of course) went to René Pape as Pogner, quite justified, as he was simply excellent.
Excellent also, was Daniel Barenboim on the podium. A magnificent, dense reading of the score. With him, the Berlin Staatskapelle is a first-rate orchestra, and as they played here, they have few (if any) rivals in the world in this repertoire.
Dorothea Röschmann made her debut as Eva, her first lead Wagnerian part, and her background in Mozart-singing was clear from the straigh Mozartian style, which which she approached the notes. Her voice is immensely beautiful, though I sincerely doubt if moving into the Wagnerian repertoire (Elsa is upcoming in 2009) is the right thing, based on the visible strain particularly in the Act III Quintet, where she seemed to have reached the maximum of her vocal capability. Furthermore she looked rather uneasy on stage, though after all, it was her first time with the part.
Among the others, Roman Trekel made a fine Beckmesser. I must admit, I´ve never quite taken to Burkhard Fritz, but that may be blamed on my ears alone, and he did seem better suited to the part of Walther than of other parts in which I´ve seen him previously (Parsifal, Benvenuto Cellini). Katharina Kammerloher was excellent as Magdalene. Florian Hoffman as David simply looked like a teenage-boy and has a very small, lyrical voice. I suppose it is a matter of taste, which type to prefer as David, but I found him a bit out of place here, though not by his fault.
This is one of the least exciting Kupfer-Wagner productions: The theme seems to be the conflict between new and old, illustrated by a vertical column of a wooden structure set upon a background of a projected modern city sky-line. And (very unlikely of Kupfer) the Personenregie seems very weak, leaving us this tableaux with a period-costumed cast for the entire opera. I suppose this production offends very few, but I´d be surprised if many found it innovative or exciting.
The only thing that genuinely bothers me about this Meistersinger, is that the company charges up to 260 Euros (Festival ticket prize) for this old Kupfer-revival, which they have played countless times before at ordinary (up to 80 Euros) prizes. I concede, that this was probably planned around René Pape´s Hans Sachs and that the company had to go forward with the schedule for logistic reasons after he cancelled, but I was not surprised to see so many of the expensive seats empty.
Photos from the Berlin State Opera website.