Walther's Prize Song from "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" with Brandon Jovanovich (Walther)
San Francisco Opera’s production of “Die Meistersinger,” envisaged by Sir David McVicar, received its premiere in 2011 at Glyndebourne and was revived at the Lyric Opera of Chicago before arriving at the War Memorial. Revival co-directors Marie Lambert and Ian Rutherford skillfully guided the huge undertaking so well that all of the action flowed smoothly even during the riot-scene when everyone filled the stage at the end of Act II. They topped that by adding jugglers on stilts to the fully-stuffed mix for the final scene of Act III when all of the townspeople turn out for the song competition.
Wagner’s comic tale about love, loss, civic pride, and the acceptance of new art hinges to a great degree on the complex character of Hans Sachs, the cobbler/poet/Mastersinger. English baritone James Rutherford gave Sach’s character plenty of depth without becoming mired in it (such as when he touched the portrait of his deceased wife and children). Rutherford’s voice was never rough around the edges, and his top notes were pure and lovely.
Making his debut in the role of Walther von Stolzing, tenor Brandon Jovanovich superbly conveyed the urgency of the young knight’s quest to win Eva’s hand. His singing brought out the legato lines so well that it caused one of the audience members to break into applause – a real no-no for Wagner operas – after the initial rendition of the prize song in Act II.
Another superb debut was Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva, the young woman who was the prize to be given to the winner of the Mastersinger’s song contest. Willis-Sørensen’s soprano sounded just a tad harsh in Act I, but it soared beautifully in the Acts II and III.
Alek Sharader’s energetic David brimmed with vim and vigor. Sasha Cooke created a comely Magdalena who was graced with pluck and understanding. Together with Sachs (Rutherford), von Stolzing (Jovanovich), and Eva (Willis-Sørensen) they exquisitely expressed the famous quintet in Act III, “Selig, wie die Sonne.”
Act III quintet "Selig, wie die Sonne" from "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg": Sasha Cooke (Magdalene), Alek Shrader (David), James Rutherford (Hans Sachs), Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Eva) and Brandon Jovanovich (Walther von Stolzing)
Martin Gantner (Sixtus Beckmesser) in "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg"
The San Francisco Opera Chorus, expertly prepared by Ian Robertson, sang with gusto, delivering one knock-out piece after the next until it all culminated in the final scene when everyone is thinking “how can they top this!”
Act II riot scene from "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg": Rachel Willis-Sørensen (Eva), Brandon Jovanovich (Walther), James Rutherford (Hans Sachs)
Set in early Nineteenth-century Nuremberg, the scenery (designed by Vicki Mortimer) hinted at the art of German woodcuts. An elegant yet simple high-vaulted ceiling helped to frame each scene from the church, to Hans Sachs living room, the town square, and finally the meadow.
There are only two more performances of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” remaining (Wednesday, December 2nd and Sunday, December 6th) at the War Memorial Opera House. If you can endure so much terrific music (including an Act III that lasts 2 hours), then by all means get yourself a ticket, because it is a life-enhancing event.
Opening Scene from David McVicar's production of "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg"