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A Success on All Fronts

Vienna Volksoper
12/13/1998 -  and 17*, 21, 25, 28 December 1998, 13, 21 April, 2 May 1999
Richard Wagner : Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Falk Struckmann (Hans Sachs), Johan Botha (Walther von. Stolzing), Fionnuala McCarthy (Eva), Mathias Zachariassen (David), Chariklia Mavropoulou (Magdalena), Bjarni Thor Kristinsson (Veit Pogner), Wicus Slabbert (Sixtus Beckmesser), Michael Kurz (Kunz Vogelsang), Franz Waechter (Konrad Nachtigall), Wolfgang Bankl (Fritz Kothner), Roland Winkler (Balthasar Zorn), Michael Roider (Ulrich Eißlinger), Christian Bauer (Augustin Moser), Alejandro Gallo (Hermann Ortel), Gerhard Rak (Hans Schwarz), Reinhard Mayr (Hans Foltz), Janusz Monarcha (Nightwatchman)
Chorus of the Vienna Volksoper/Wiener Konzertchor/Hochschulchor, Michael Tomaschek (Chorus Director)
Orchestra of the Vienna Volksoper, Ahser Fisch (Conductor)
Christine Mielitz (Director), Stefan Mayer (Set Designer), Caritas de Wit (Costume Designer), Friedrich Rom (Lighting Designer)

The Vienna Volksoper had posed itself quite a challenge by celebrating its 100th anniversary with Wagner’s only comic opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, but the production proved to be one of the finest things offered on the Viennese opera scene in the recent past. Not only was it strongly cast, but also imaginatively and intelligently staged.

Director Christine Mielitz focused on the human dimensions of the story and the personal relationships between the different characters, rather than on the political aspects of the piece. Her very detailed direction of the characters was simply masterful. Countless gestures gave each character, also the smaller ones, individual life, and she was equally adept at making humorous and dramatic points. Eva was portrayed as a very emotional, spontaneous, yet determined young girl, Walther as a sort of revolutionary who breaks into the inflexible traditional world of the Mastersingers (this aspect was also emphasized optically by Walther being clad in a long leather coat and sporting a long, flowing mane of wavy blond hair, as opposed to the rather conventionally dressed Mastersingers), and Sachs as a relatively young, attractive man who finds it difficult to give up his secret love of Eva. Mielitz was also careful not to reduce Beckmesser to a grotesque caricature but brought out the more tragic aspects of the character. A touching moment occurred at the end of the opera, when Sachs led Beckmesser who had just been defeated at the prize singing back to the group of Mastersingers.

Visually, there was only one basic set consisting of the bare walls of a turn-of-the-century drawing room which were encircled by a sort of catwalk ascending towards the back and then descending again. The set was mounted on a revolving stage and was rotated, so that different angles of it effectively provided the different locations of the opera. The costumes were in the style of the interwar period.

The soloists, almost all of whom were cast from the Volksoper’s own company, were excellent throughout. Falk Struckmann was a sympathetic, fresh, virile Sachs and gave a very convincing and moving portrayal of Sachs’ complex emotions. The peak of his performance was certainly the grippingly intense "Wahn" monologue. The true surprise of the evening, however, was Johan Botha who sang a magnificent Walther von Stolzing, with youthful ardour and clear ringing top notes. Fionnuala McCarthy was an attractive, temperamental Eva but sounded a bit forced occasionally. David was beautifully sung and strongly portrayed by Mathias Zachariassen, and Wicus Slabbert turned in a fine, uncaricatured portrayal of the pedantic, vain Beckmesser, with just the right touch of irony but never over the top. The smaller roles were also well cast, both vocally and dramatically. Chariklia Mavropoulou was a lush sounding, dominant Magdalena, Bjarni Thor Kristinsson a sympathetic, resonant Pogner and Wolfgang Bankl an authoritative Kothner. The chorus sounded meticulously rehearsed and produced a magnificent volume of sound, especially in "Wach auf!".

The Orchestra of the Volksoper, which had not performed any Wagner in more than 50 years, at first sounded a bit unbalanced but improved as the evening went on and turned in a very acceptable overall performance under the baton of Asher Fisch. All in all, an immensely enjoyable production and a worthy 100th!

Bettina Maani



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