The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, Opera by R. Wagner
The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is an opera that simultaneously defines and defies Richard Wagner and his gigantic musical legacy. It is the only one of his epic stage works that does not include supernatural and mythological elements. Unlike his intensely dramatic Ring operas, it is a comedy. In terms of musical ideology, it goes against many of Wagner’s creative principles and includes a number of classical elements he found antiquated and artistically worthless, such as lyrics that rhyme, choruses and arias, as well as a ballet. Despite these stylistic transgressions – at least in the composer’s own book – Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, as the original German title goes, became a defining step in Wagner’s career ever since their premiere on 21 June 1868 at the National Theatre in Munich. Vienna State Opera is ready to take audiences back to 16th-century Nuremberg this season.
Wagner came up with the idea for The Mastersingers of Nuremberg while reading a book on the history of German poetry. A chapter therein paid special attention to the Bavarian tradition of so-called ‘Meistersinger’, men who make a living as craftsmen but are also accomplished musicians and poets. In other words, they are masters of a trade who also sing. Among them, Hans Sachs stood out as a central historical figure, and Wagner readily incorporated him as a main character in his opera. The creative process lasted over two decades. From conceiving the original idea to writing the libretto and the score, Wagner developed both musical, lyrical, and philosophical ideas that were vastly ahead of their time.
The plot of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg centres on the love story between Walther von Stolzing, a travelling nobleman, and Eva, the daughter of goldsmith and mastersinger Veit Pogner. The smitten visitor immediately proposes to the young lady, but her hand is already promised to the winner of the town’s mastersinger contest. Without delay, Walther applies to join the Nuremberg mastersingers’ guild and is ready to compete and be judged by the fair and wise cobbler Hans Sachs and his antithesis, the clerk Sixtus Beckmesser. A series of comical and dramatic situations arise in the young lovers’ path, accompanied by powerful melodies that only Wagner’s hand could pen.