December 7th, 2014

briar

Die Meistersinger


It's a really big show. About four hours and 40 minutes of music, four completely different sets, chorus and orchestra packed to the gills, and a host of secondary soloists. The chorus and orchestra are superb in this, as always, and it's good to see James Levine in the pit in fine form.

James Morris and Johan Botha are the standouts among the principals. Morris will be 68 next month, and although the voice is a bit frayed, especially on top, he's such a commanding presence in the role that he overcomes his age. The huge chorus praising Sachs in the final scene could easily be heard as the Met Chorus extolling their longtime colleague. And he sounded more solid than I've heard him in a while—probably helped by it not calling for a lot of sustained, lyrical singing. Walther, on the other hand, has a tremendous amount of that to do, and Botha sailed through it, unflagging to the end. I've avoided him some in recent seasons because his excellent voice was so often overshadowed by his complete lack of acting ability. He'd sing very well but stand around like a block of wood. Experience or coaching (or both) is moving him past that, and he was quite a pleasant surprise tonight.

We also got a partial answer to what happens when the set change to the final scene doesn't go right: keep going! The actual change seemed to go fine, but the curtain reopened about a minute late (and gave one of the bass players a head full of tassel during the interlude).

Four more performances, next Saturday's matinee in movie theatres. With intermissions it's six hours, but it's so worthwhile. This is the last revival of this 20-year-old Otto Schenk production with his usual naturalistic grandeur. When next we see it in five years, we'll have Stefan Herheim's production from Salzburg, which I'm looking forward to even though I'll miss this one.