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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg — Performance Review

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

San Francisco Opera Performance

November 27, 2015




You have to be pretty sturdy to sit through this monstrosity.  It started around 6pm and I did not step back out into the chilly San Francisco night until a shade before midnight.  It wore me out.  And it was not just the length, it was the content.  This opera is overkill raised to several exponents.  There is not enough dramatic content in this opera to sustain interest for six overbearing hours.  Probably eighty percent of it could be cut with no great loss.  Someone should try to do an abridged version of this.  It might sell better.

The idea is very simple and one that I liked.  A woman is offered as a prize to the winner of a singing contest.  There is some intrigue surrounding the judging; there are several rivals competing for the girl, and there is the issue of how much the girl’s vote should count in determining the winner, as well as rules about how the song should be written and what its qualities should be.  In the end, the winner turns out to be the girl’s first choice and he also happens to compose the best song.  So it is a very straightforward, uncomplicated plot that resolves in a positive, uncontroversial ending.  You don’t need six hours to play that out.

The idea of offering a woman as a prize in an arts competition strikes me as being ahead of its time and one that we might consider incorporating into modern music competitions.  I wonder how much it would change outcomes and whether it might inspire more young guys to take up musical instruments?  I’m not sure forcing the winning couple to get married is a good idea, but the idea of offering an attractive girl as a reward for male achievement is something missing from our culture.  Sex is not an officially sanctioned reward for anything in our society, and it is a great deprivation to both women and men.  When a woman is offered as a prize for achievement it affirms the woman’s value and desirability to men.  Having men compete for the woman underlines this desirability and inspires the men to put forth their best effort.  It also opens the door to all sorts of corruption and rivalry among the men as the opera illustrates, but this could be mitigated by offering multiple “prizes” and having numerous winners.  The point is that offering sex as a reward inspires men toward high achievement and elevates the value of women, both in the eyes of men and in society.  But in modern society we do not do this.  The Islamic State does this, and it is one of the reasons for their success in attracting young males to fight for them.  Our refusal to use sex as a reward system removes a major motivation and director of male behavior.  Meistersinger illustrates the value of this to men, to women, and to the community.

The other insight to be gleaned from this opera is that women love to fuck singers.  Any rock and roll star can attest to this.  Why they prefer singers to philosophers I have no idea, but it is undoubtedly true.  If you want to get girls, become a popular singer.  Wagner was definitely on to something way back in the mid-nineteenth century.

The music is a saving grace of this opera.  The orchestrations are superb, and if you like operatic singing — which I don’t — there is a lot of it, particularly from male singers.  The overture to the third act is strikingly somber and beautiful.

This opera has a rather provincial quality to it, taking place in Nürnberg during a local religious festival.  Religious aspects of the culture are featured right from the very beginning.  The opera opens with a church service in progress.  Hymns are being sung that promote the Christian faith, and Walther, the lead character, is waiting in the lobby to meet Eva after the service.  Favorable references to Christian practices and ideas appear throughout the opera, and purging these religious overtones from the opera would be an improvement and make the opera feel less archaic.

The third act is exceedingly long.  It takes place in Hans Sachs living room and is a series of tedious, mostly abstract, discussions with very little action of any kind.  I was getting sleepy during the long first scene of the third act.  It was very hard to stay interested in it.  Scene Two of the third act was much more colorful and lively.  There is some elaborate choreography that is interesting, but it also went on too long.  I can’t imagine who would like this except people who are real enthusiasts of operatic music, or perhaps German history and culture.  It is very germanic and very dated, except for the idea of officially sanctioning sex as a prize and a motivator for male achievement.  I don’t see much in it for a contemporary American audience.  This opera was a memorable performance, but for the wrong reasons.

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