Sunday, July 3, 2011

Nuernberg all-nighter

No one can say I do not practice what I preach! Yesterday I encouraged people to check out "Die Meistersinger" from Glyndebourne. I said I was going to even though we had less than 48 hours left to do it. And trust me, I had a lot scheduled for those hours.

I was up at 4 a.m., watching the first act!

I could not sleep because I had a lot on my mind so I thought, as long as I am good for nothing anyway, I may as well watch "Meistersinger." Anyway that is time well spent. It is one of the dumb things about the world that reading a book is looked on as being productive while listening to music in general is not.

So, somewhere around 5:30, 6 a.m., there my life is, mirroring art. Hans Sachs has been up all night and so have I!

The Hans Sachs in this production is Gerald Finley, a Canadian singer. I am not an expert on this opera, though I am fast becoming one. I had never really seen it before, not even on video. I knew parts of it and had a sketchy concept of the story. My father loved this opera and I remember when I was about 16 he sat me down and we listened to it together. I guess I liked it but I do not remember a lot more than that.

My father had a book of Wagner librettos that I inherited after he died and he had made pencil notes about the dates he listened to "Die Meistersinger." It must be written in there when exactly he and I listened to it. I will have to go look. My dad did that for one other thing that I know of. In "The Forsyte Saga," he noted down whenever he read "Indian Summer of a Forsyte." That is extremely affecting, too. So beautifully written.

I was up all night when I read "Indian Summer of a Forsyte," too! I remember when I finished it the sun was coming up.

What is this all adding up to? Darned if I know.

Back to "Die Meistersinger." I still have half of Act 3 to go but I took a break to, ahem, share my observations, should you wish to call in sick to whatever plans you had today and catch it at the last minute.

Glyndebourne set the opera in the early 19th century. It is obvious right away -- you have the top hats and the Empire waist gowns. It does not quite go with the opera's reflection of the medieval age of faith -- the night watchman calling the benediction as he calls the hours, the entire town at Mass, the hymns to and celebration of the Feast of St. John the Baptist. Also there is that last act when -- I remember the opera expert Father Owen Lee pointed this out  -- Wagner brings the Middle Ages to life as no play or movie has been able to do. You are kind of wasting that if you set the opera in a different era. "Die Meistersinger" is medieval and I can't understand why people can't leave it that way.

Still, the costumes are charming and you kind of forget they are not medieval. The opera puts you back in the Middle Ages no matter what the costumers are doing, I guess I am saying.

Finley, pictured up above, is tremendously moving as Sachs. He is a young Sachs. His hair is not even gray. He has a kind of pugnacious look, like a bulldog, and his ears stick out, and he's cute. Never having seen the opera before there were some things I had not realized. Sachs is kind of mean, for one thing. His apprentice is afraid of him. Sachs beats him. Sachs is wrestling with all kinds of stuff that the other people in the opera do not see.

Granted, my sleep is all over the map, and this ravishing music gets to me anyway, but I teared up watching the Prelude to Act 3. It just exposes all the secret messiness of this man's life. How he represses the memory of his dead wife -- and children, too, it seems. How he drinks too much. This might have been a Glyndebourne touch, the bottles lying around, but it rings true. Just looking at him slumped over his desk, his wine glass in his hand -- then opening the shutters and confronting the sunlight -- your heart just goes out to him. Finley shares the credit with Wagner on this one.

You hear so much, too much, about how Hitler loved "Meistersinger." Hitler must have been sleeping through the part where Sachs despairs over man's inhumanity to man. How come you never hear that quoted? I am just saying. You hear all this blah blah blah about the ending, when he talks about the sacred German art, but you never hear the other things that Sachs says.

Two other things and then I must get back to Glyndebourne because time is short.

One, Beckmesser -- this is Johannes Martin Kranzler -- pretty much steals the show whenever he is on. You cannot look away from him. He has a marvelous comic face, and something is touching about him, too. I would imagine that is important in a good Beckmesser. You do not want some cartoon, or some blatant idiot. Most of us have some kind of inner Beckmesser and Wagner was smart enough to know that.

Two, the part where Eva comes to see Sachs and she kind of flirts around with him, gently, about whether he is going to try to win her hand.... God knows how this works, but music fools around with your subconscious. And opera in general -- and Wagner in particular -- is very good about getting across people's foggy relationships with each other. Things that can't be spoken or acknowledged or put into words, that is what you get from the music.

I think I should get back to it now!

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