[Met Performance] CID:192040

New Production

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, October 18, 1962

Debut : Otto Wiener, Murray Dickie

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (297)
Richard Wagner | Richard Wagner
Hans Sachs
Otto Wiener [Debut]

Ingrid Bjoner

Walther von Stolzing
Sándor Kónya

Helen Vanni

Murray Dickie [Debut]

Karl Dönch

Ezio Flagello

Norman Mittelmann

Paul Franke

Calvin Marsh

Roald Reitan

Andrea Velis

Gabor Carelli

Robert Nagy

Louis Sgarro

Norman Scott

Night Watchman
Clifford Harvuot

Joseph Rosenstock

Nathaniel Merrill

Robert O'Hearn

Todd Bolender

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg received sixteen performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Review 1:

Review of Irving Kolodin in The Saturday

Let us all give a hearty cheer, make a glad sound of welcome home for the real Rudolf Bing, the one who presented his credentials as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera a dozen years ago with a memorable production by Gerard of "Don Carlo" and has periodically renewed them with the Berman "Don Giovanni," the Gerard "Arabella," the Beaton "Vanessa" and "Turandot," and the Oliver Messel "Figaro," among others. Clearly he is, in person, again minding the store, for the sumptuous new "Meistersinger" created by Robert O'Hearn is close to Bing's best ever, and a sample of operatic production that would improve the look of any stage in the world.

Working in a spirit of elegant traditionalism, O'Hearn has set a stage which Nathaniel Merrill has peopled with the most convincing company of guildsmen and apprentices, townspeople and burghers, seen in decades.

Without exception these residents of Nuerenberg are models of taste in clothing, household furnishing, and general well-being qualified to personify the images of Wagner's richest fantasy. A splendid cast of mostly young (or, at least mostly fresh-voiced) singers is equal, every one of them, to the minimum responsibility put upon them, and in several instances achieves close to the maximum.

Where O'Hearn has succeeded particularly well is in accommodating the amplitude of Wagner's accomplishment to the magnitude of the Metropolitan's stage without dwarfing the humans who must, after all, make real and meaningful this act of homage (underwritten by Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.). Nuremberg probably never saw a St. Katherine's Church with the vaulted height of the one currently serving the needs of Act I, but it is not excessive for the rising eloquence of the first-act chorale or the soaring spirit of Walther's trial song. The interior for Scene I of Act III is more a study of Sachs the poet than a workshop for his cobbling, but it evokes a warmth and serenity beautifully suited to its purpose.

It is in the gabled dwellings of the masters and their fellow Nuernbergers for Act II, however, that O'Hearn casts a spell of poetic sorcery without which a "Meistersinger" production is an exercise in futility. It interprets the composer-librettist's stage directions with a certain liberty but always purposefully. Its principal elements are curving flights of street-steps to left and right, between which Sach's dwelling, with its crucial part in the action, forms a kind of island. The important consequence is to permit a circulation of traffic around this vital point of the drama, enabling Merrill to make the scene of the climax riotous rather than merely chaotic.

Fortunately, too, for his finale O'Hearn has not felt himself bound to the purely realistic. Rather, there is a finely conceived forecurtain to bridge the music for the end of the workshop scene. When it rises on the gaily festive "bowl" which has been erected on the Metropolitan stage, the same perspective of Nuerenberg is carried from front scrim to painted backdrop, as a cohesive factor.

Holiday attire is provided for all, from the Meistersingers in ankle-length robes and broad-brimmed hats to the other guilds in the party attire of their craft. A central platform serves musical as well as dramatic purposes when time comes for Beckmesser's fiasco and Walther's triumph.

So much has been expended on the visual side of the "Meistersinger" for the clear reason that it does, throughout, serve musical as well as dramatic purposes, and will continue to do so throughout many changes of personnel and musical direction (the last new "Meistersinger" at the Met would date a present critical "Dean's" debut). But it would take an unlikely benefaction of talent to give future audiences a better-sounding, more picturesque Walther than Sandor Konya, a more attractive, musically valid Eva than Ingrid Bjoner, a livelier, better routined David than Murray Dickie (his debut), a Beckmesser of more pith and honest ire than Karl Doench, or a more mellifluous Pogner than the New York-born Ezio Flagello.

Unlike some Pogners of memory, Flagello's is a pliable rather than an imposing voice which fits him well, however, for vocal palship with his neighbor and crony Hans Sachs as interpreted by Otto Wiener of Vienna. This is a characterization that builds steadily from Act I to "Verachtet Mir die Meister Nicht," by contrast with some weightier voices which reach an earlier peak and taper off thereafter. It will take another performance of two to determine whether Wiener's rather negligible impression in Act I is all intent, or some lack of capacity: He tends to be too much "one of the boys," somewhat submerged vocally as well as dramatically. Norman Mittelmann (Kothner), for one, commands a richer sound than Wiener's.

But as the episodes and the hours accumulate, Wiener broadens the scope, deepens the line of his Sachs, also summoning the nuance and inflection of his concert-singing days to make the effect denied to him by lack of volume. Much more of an extrovert Sachs than some celebrated predecessors, given to abrupt gestures and hearty humor, Wiener's is a thoroughly studied impersonation which rarely leaves a vital point of the test or turn of the music unattended. If he has not shown the richness of sound one craves in the "Flieder" monologue or "Wahn! Wahn!" he does tie the action together as a good Sachs must. In appearance, he is almost ideal, vigorous enough to explain Eva's interest in him as a possible husband, grizzled enough to explain his own wisdom in rejecting such a match.

In this year of 1962, more than thirty years after his first Metropolitan "Meistersinger" (as a much different man), conductor Joseph Rosenstock is disposing a fine sense of tonal values, a penetrating knowledge of the score, a warmly satisfying ebb and flow. If the singers sound as well, uniformly, as they did, it is at least in part because their needs are acutely balanced against the wants of the orchestra in Wagner's (and Rosenstock's) scheme of sonority. No "Meistersinger" at the Metropolitan in years has been so carefully prepared and Rosenstock's scrupulous sense of detail enables the quality of the orchestra to assert isself with almost uniformly high credit. This is a "Meistersinger" worthy, for once, of its subject both to ear and eye.

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