Programme booklet »Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg«

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3 flutes / 1 piccolo 2 oboes / 2 clarinets 2 bassoons / 4 horns 3 trumpets / 3 trombones 1 bass tuba / timpani percussion / 1 harp / 1 lute violin I / violin II / viola cello / double bass Organ / 4 horns / 6 trumpets 1 tuba / 2 euphoniums / 4 drums


Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg WORLD PREMIÈRE 21 JUNE 1868 Munich Court Opera PREMIÈRE AT THE HOUSE ON THE RING 27 FEB 1870 Vienna Court Opera DURATION

5 H 15 M



SYNOPSIS ACT 1 The service on the day before St. John’s is drawing to its close. Walther von Stolzing, a young knight from Franconia, staying in Nuremberg as the guest of the goldsmith Veit Pogner, finally manages to ask Eva, Pogner’s daughter, whether she is betrothed to someone. Magdalene, Eva’s nurse, explains: Pogner has decided that Eva shall marry the winner of the forthcoming singing contest of the Master­singers. Eva, of course, is already very much interested in the Franconian knight. In order to win Eva, Walther decides to enter into the contest. While preparing the vestry for a meeting of the Masters, David, Sachs’ apprentice, describes the difficulties of the singing rules to Stolzing who remains quite confused. However, he is sure that he will pass the intermediate grades and presently succeed to be a Master. Pogner now informs the Masters of his decision to offer his daughter’s hand and his fortune as a prize in the singing contest, and recommends to admit Stolzing. When Sachs suggests to let the people, too, vote at the contest, it is above all Beckmesser, the town scribe, who protests as he himself hopes to win Eva and takes Sachs for a rival. Soon, however, his suspicions concentrate on Stolzing. When the latter is allowed to sing a trial song, Beckmesser delights in performing his duty which is to mark the candidate’s mistakes. Walther sings without regard for the Masters’ rules and Beckmesser has no trouble to eliminate his presumed rival: the knight is “out and done with.” – Only Sachs recognises the true potential of Walther’s song that sounded so unusual to the Masters.

Previous pages: SCENE



ACT 2 From her beloved David, Magdalene learns that Walther failed with his trial song and hurries to tell Eva. Despite the late hour, Sachs moves to the front of his house to do some work, musing over the day’s events. Eva comes to offer help and advice. To test her, Sachs pretends to side with the Mastersingers, and from her angry reaction discovers her real feelings. Maybe there was a time when Eva would not have disliked Sachs to woo her, and maybe he himself once thought about it – but this is all over now. Magdalene tells Eva that Beckmesser intends to serenade her. Eva on no account plans to appear at her window – Magdalene should pose there in Eva’s clothes. For Eva has an assignation with Walther who, in his indignation for the Mastersingers, persuades Eva to flee with him. Sachs, however, overhears the young couple’s conversation and, as he wishes them well, he tries to prevent such an irrevocable action. Then Beckmesser arrives and begins his serenade. Sachs, meanwhile, disturbs him most thoroughly. Just as Beckmesser chalked Walther’s violations of the Masters’ rules on his slate, Sachs marks the scribe’s mistakes by taps of his hammer and so repairs Beckmesser’s shoes surprisingly fast. David spots Magdalene who listens to the “serenade” in Eva’s clothes. In a jealous rage he falls upon Beckmesser and their fight develops into an enormous row involving the whole street. Sachs uses the confusion to bring Eva back home, and invites the young knight to his own house.



ACT 3 Sachs is brooding, wherever he casts his eye, he sees nothing but folly. David, who has the nightly row on his conscience, says his verse for St. John’s Day and remembers to congratulate Sachs on his nameday. Walther von Stolzing enters and says that he had the most beautiful dream. Sachs challenges him to make a poem from it and while Walther sings, Sachs writes down two of the verses. When they leave the room, Sachs leaves the poem lying on the table. Beckmesser, still suffering by the failure last night, comes and finds the poem which he takes for Sachs’ own entry for the contest, and quickly pockets it. When Sachs realises this, he makes Beckmesser a present of the poem – lest he be called a thief – and happily swears that he will never claim authorship of the song. Beckmesser is again full of hope to win the contest. Eva enters and has all her doubts reassured when Walther addresses the third verse of his prize song to her. Following the custom of the Mastersingers, Sachs solemnly baptises the new song and calls it “selige Morgentraum-Deutweise”, i. e. “Song explaining the dream in the morning.” He also makes David his journeyman, which pleases Magdalene very much. The crowd greets Hans Sachs full of enthusiasm end respect. Sachs opens the contest and due to his age, Beckmesser has precedence. He has tried his hand with Walther’s song, but has failed to understand even one word of it and finishes most unfamously amid general amusement. Furiously, he names Sachs as the author. Sachs, however, calls up the real poet and so gives Walther the opportunity to win the prize. The people acclaim Stolzing who is still not reconciled with the Mastersingers and wants to reject their prize. Sachs intervenes and makes Walther see the dignity and the value, the meaning and the importance of their art.




THE MYSTERY OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS OR: THE YOUNGEST GODPARENT WINS THE PRIZE Both as a performer and as an audience member, you come closest to the essence of Wagner and his understanding of art in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The key here is nothing less than the always new and central question of the combination, the ideal blend, of form and content on the one hand and the source of inspiration and ideas on the other. As we know, without structure, growth and transitions, the best ideas do not succeed; conversely the clearest and most well-conceived form will never become a work of art if there is no inspiration. Since as a general rule ideas did not come readily to Wagner, he occasionally believed that he could find the impetus for his inspiration in staged tantrums, hate, antagonism – including his repulsive Antisemitism.

At all events, throughout his life he was consumed by divining the secret of the genesis of a work of art; with Die Meis­ tersinger he provided a neat answer to this question. Furthermore, precisely because of its evident contradictions, Die Meistersinger forms a unit with Tristan und Isolde, Wagner’s “opus metaphysicum” in which his entire oeuvre is identifiable as it were in the focus of a burning glass. More even, only when we look at the synopsis of these two works do we realise what was important to Wagner. It reveals that everything that was perfected in Tristan was presented in Die Meistersinger as antithesis: chromaticism as opposed to diatonicism for example, or harmony as opposed to counterpoint, heroes as opposed to citizens, tragedy as opposed to comedy.



The idea of comedy is in keeping with great tradition – starting with the ancient Greeks and continuing via Shakespeare to the present day – that examines the “conditio humana” in all its depths. It was not merely for that reason that Wagner deleted the explicit designation “comedy” that he had originally intended and termed Die Meistersinger simply “Opera in three acts.” Ultimately something bigger, more expansive came of it all than Wagner’s original concept. In other words, Die Meistersinger became emancipated from its creator in the creative process – and this brings us back to the mystery of the creation of a work of art. For this reason, not least in view of the quality of the libretto which can be performed in readings separately from the music, I consider Die Meistersinger to be one of the best German-language comedies. Certainly, at the same level as for example Kleist’s The Broken Jug or Lessing’s Minna von Barnhelm. And here again this applies both to the content and the form. Wagner combines the two elements brilliantly; one need only think of the “stanza” form he so liked to use (for example in Walküre for Wotan’s farewell) and which appears throughout Die Meistersinger. The stanza-stanza-aftersong structure in Wagner goes far beyond the purely linguistic level, as Hans Sachs explains very impressively to Walther in act 3. It involves the merging of opposites, from which something new arises, in other words the “right couple” who bear children. A propos couple: in my view it is not only Walther who is a mastersinger, but also his wife Eva. Initially she fulfils the function of the inspiring

muse in that she kindles the spark in Walther for him to write his song. But when in act 3, shortly before the incredibly wonderful quintet, the Tristan chord is heard as Wagner quotes himself, far more is expressed than Sachs’ realisation that a relationship between him and Eva would end unhappily. Merely with the exclamation “O Sachs! My friend!” several pages earlier, Eva brings forth music such as was not heard before and never occurs again in the entire opera. Suddenly we find ourselves in the musical language of Tristan und Isolde, and a primal experience for Eva reveals itself. Her loyalty and friendship for Sachs peak in her expression of thanks, in her affirmation that she had learned everything from mastersinger Sachs. Her words “through you I learned what people prize, through you I realised the workings of the spirit; by you awoken, only through you did I think nobly, freely, and boldly; you made me blossom” refers naturally not just to her being a woman but also her understanding as an artist. Wagner places the Tristan chord on the word “dismayed” in Eva’s assertion “You yourself, my master, were dismayed” because at the latest when Eva makes this comment Sachs realises her enormous artistic potential. Dismayed not for love alone, but dismayed out of acknowledgement, respect. It is not for no reason that he has her, as the newest godparent, open the quintet that follows. And how wonderfully she sublimates and transcends her “trepidation motif” from the beginning of the scene, and so in the transition to the quintet transforms her personal situation into one of the most beautiful melodies in the entire opera!



She also proves to be a talented poet when she speaks the words of the “Blissful morning-dream interpretation”, in other words the title just devised for Walther’s new song, at the start of each new verse of the melody he intones. Walther’s often cited statement in the final scene, his “No, Master! No! I will be happy without masterhood!“ symbolises an obeisance to Eva. Although he obviously cannot say so, what Walther wants is to bestow the wreath on her, the true master. Apart from the quintet, I definitely want to make specific mention of the prelude to act 3 at this point. This orchestral piece, which sets up much that is in act 3, moves me time and again with its incredibly deeply felt, touching musing on the course of the world and simply being human. The “madness motif” touched on in the Cobbler’s song is further developed here, brass and bassoons strike up the “Awake” chorus on the festival meadow, and the previously mentioned wonderful transition to the quintet shaped by Eva is heard. And Wagner’s homage to Johann Sebastian Bach is present once again. In this prelude we hear for example a fugue that could easily have come from Bach’s The Art of the Fugue. Because even if Bach’s work disappeared from the limelight for many years – we learn at school that not until Mendelssohn made the public at large aware again of the Matthew Passion – the works of the great cantor of St Thomas in Leipzig were never completely forgotten – particularly not in expert circles, Wagner’s idea of musical drama is certainly not based on Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven and French grand opera, but is essentially rooted in Bach’s Passions. The

exchanges between the Evangelist and the actors, the drama of the big crowd choruses, indeed even the language of these Passions clearly left their mark on Wagner, as we can see in the fugues, the counterpoint and the chorales especially in Die Meistersinger. Nevertheless, it would naturally be wrong in Die Meistersinger to talk about a tonal about-turn on the part of Wagner because of diatonicism, chorale and fugue. When the horns play the spring motif in the “elder monologue” as the strings play a tremolo sul ponticello – close to the bridge – with this effect Wagner anticipated Impressionism. The layering of fourths in the fight scene on the other hand is reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, and the use of the dominant seventh chord is a very original way of smoothing out what was at the time the traditional language of tonality. I would like to make specific mention of Hans Sachs’ closing address, which became historically charged at the latest with the terrors of the National Socialist era. I believe that we should read it as follows. Sachs is talking about values, addressing the fact that new things can only emerge about in the presence of earlier efforts – whether through continuation or through deliberate opposition. The destruction and elimination of anything that has grown over the centuries cannot be a rational path to take in art; in particular in our modern globalised world, veneration of one’s own artistic means of expression, as Sachs demands, is unbelievably important. And that is his message. His emphasis is not on the word “German” but on the word “true.” True in the sense of authentic.





Let us assume that Die Meister­ singer is indeed a comedy. In your view as an Englishman: What is the difference between British and German humour? kw I have never noticed much difference. People laugh at Chaplin, at Woody Allen, around the world, everywhere. So I cannot see any major difference between England and Germany. Although in one respect there is indeed a difference: in Germany and Austria people are much less likely to laugh when they are at the opera. They seem to feel that a comedy is worth much less than a tragedy. So a comedy is not suitable for an opera house that wants to be taken seriously. This idea doesn’t exist in America and England. No one thought that Shakespeare’s comedies were less important than his tragedies. Or that Oscar Wilde was less gifted than Eugene O’Neill. I remember a production of Don Giovanni that I put on at the Theater an der Wien. I believe that this work has

elements of dramma giocoso, in other words comedy. At the première, almost no one laughed. The next day I read in the papers how funny the production was! So people are afraid to laugh. Mark you, only at the theatre. Because when I am with friends in Germany or Austria, we laugh at the same things. ol So the question is: is Die Meister­ singer a comedy? – regardless of whether people feel they can laugh or not. kw I think that was first and foremost a question for Wagner. When he first started working on the piece, when he was in Marienbad, he wanted to write a comedy. However, when he fleshed out the opera, he was in a completely different frame of mind; we know he was extremely despondent, and he stopped referring to Die Meistersinger as a comedy. It was no longer to be a light “operetta.” Incidentally, that is something else that Die Meistersinger is not. I believe you will find a journey in this opera. The



first two acts are more comedic, but when we come to Beckmesser’s song, then it is no longer funny, but rather painful, tormented, cruel. A self-abasement. As the piece continues, it grows increasingly serious. And in act 3, the music becomes significantly darker for me. Then, at the end, we have a traditional comedy finale along the lines of boy gets girl, and so on. When we look at Sachs’ madness monologue and then his long dialogue with Walther, we find – as I once read – the most profound analysis of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Then Beckmesser follows, and then this profound, humanly aching moment with Sachs, when Eva sings in the quintet. It is all about expectations that change... I think Wagner would have found it difficult to maintain the comedy. But with this development, the opera became more substantial, richer. I am put in mind of the writer Alan Ayckbourn, who is now over 80 and has written countless plays. He started with very clever comedies, but as he grew older his work became much darker. As I said: a journey! ol Dreaming is an important as­ pect of your production. Who is dreaming? And what are they dreaming? kw I saw Sachs’ dream as a creative need, in the sense that he is creating a story about his emotions. What I wanted to show, however, is that this dreaming is contagious. That those who are infected and have the necessary talent can create their own worlds, a kind of illusion. Suddenly Sachs is steeped in Walther’s fantasy, he wanders through Walther’s worlds, and conversely Walther can take hold of Sachs’ fantasies, and Eva appears there too. It appeals to me when the relationship be-

tween reality and the inner perception of the artist or of the individual dream is fluid. At that point, you no longer ask: what exactly is that? We are familiar with this from Shakespeare, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but also from The Tempest, that reality and illusion are very closely interwoven. This is precisely what I have found for a long time in the music of Die Meistersinger. You could resent the whole thing purely as Sachs’ dream – but the older I get, the less I want to develop a conceptional view that allows only one path, one interpretation. I like having some ambiguity. ol Wagner’s work is enveloped in all kinds of theories and ideas. How do you stage one of his operas with – or in spite of – all these theories? kw By making sure it always stays theatre. An evening of opera cannot be just an idea or a concept, it must function within this framework. As an actor or director, we can take an alternative approach to philosophy, we can think theatrically. This ranks equally with philosophy and with ideology. What we experience together in theatre and how it works is an alternative way of seeing life and the world. It is not just entertainment! By thinking theatrically, we learn to see things in a different way that we could never learn through philosophy. ol In your work, a number of sym­ bols play a role. We see a bird and a goblin. The latter is also rem­ iniscent of Friedrich Nietzsche. Are you adding a new level of in­ terpretation here? kw Both the bird and the goblin – it doesn’t neces­s arily have to be Nietzsche – also feature in the libretto.



Walther sings about ravens, magpies and jackdaws, these are the “masters.” Here a surreal dimension comes into play. And then he sees himself as a magnificent golden bird. Incidentally, in this Walther clearly receives support from Sachs. The goblin also occurs in the libretto; Sachs mentions it in his madness monologue. And then we have the music, in which I hear somewhat magical midsummer night’s music that guides us and offers various schemes. The Nietzsche head refers to the fact that Wagner felt bitter bile was needed, in other words something irritating to stimulate the creative imagination. Artists need this small grain of sand in the oyster to jump-start them. Seen in this light, Wagner’s hatred of Meyerbeer for example was a way of finding out how he wanted to write operas. The Italian opera practice that he hated led him to his musical dramas. So there is the goblin. It doesn’t have to be Nietzsche, it could be Hanslick, Rossini, someone who Wagner felt annoyed by. I don’t know how many people in the audience would even recognise Nietzsche. Nietzsche as a philosopher appealed to me the most. Naturally there is also a reference to Sachs; there is something in him, an affliction that eats away at him, but which also inspires him, and in a certain way opens the door to the subconscious. However, this does not mean that the piece includes a deep Wagner-Nietzsche debate. It is merely the irritation. ol In your production we experi­ ence several time planes: the historic Nuremberg period, but also others. kw I believe that in every play there is a conflict between the time in which the piece was written, the time in which

the action takes place, and the present – after all, we are playing contemporary theatre. Incidentally, the question of the historic period dates back to the 19 th century; it was not important to Shakespeare whether his historic plays were performed in the correct costumes. I knew that this opera would somehow fall flat for me if I set it in the 16th century. But modern costumes alone do not make the piece modern; it is clearly not a contemporary opera. The modern elements that must occur lie in our reactions to the events in Die Meistersinger. In this opera we are liberated from certain things; how Eva is treated comes to mind in this context. We feel uncomfortable about her treatment. And I have the feeling that Wagner wrote the scene precisely because he did not agree with her treatment. To a certain extent, the entire opera takes place in the present, and the other levels are spirits and visions of a romantic 19th century dream that Sachs has. One of the levels of time is the year 1946, because I wanted to show an event that takes place after the Nazi regime and that addresses the pain of a world in which something traumatic has happened, where horror has fundamentally changed people’s lives. It is the moment in which things are past and something new can happen – that is very much the theme of Die Meis­ tersinger. The factor of responsibility comes into play: people are responsible for their actions. The echo of what has been done may emanate from the score, and it re-emerges in several lines, in several characters. And so in the creative process you can in fact develop a sense of moral responsibility. ol Turning our attention to the people: what function do they have in this opera?



kw At the beginning, Sachs suggests that the people should determine who will be Eva’s future spouse. It is fairly clear that the people hold Sachs in great esteem. If it were his goal to win Eva, I believe that he would succeed. However, what I find interesting here is that to a certain extent Beckmesser is a practical projection of Sachs, including in the catastrophic way his courtship ends. As far as the people are concerned, we find them to be very inconsistent. At the end of act 2 and also in act 3, after Beckmesser’s song, they start wondering about Sachs. I think that after he addresses them before the competition, they are not entirely persuaded by him, and people, especially women, are astonished and even shocked. Incidentally, Sachs finds it difficult to fully support Pogner’s wish. After Walther’s song, people once again think Sachs is wonderful. This is just like Shakespeare, in the crowd scenes in Julius Caesar, where the people are undecided, tending this way or that, depending which way the wind is blowing. People can turn to terrible dictatorships, such as National Socialism, but also fall prey to current day populists, such as Donald Trump. No matter what the system, people are fickle. ol What will happen after the fi­ nale? Will Eva and Walther stay in Nuremberg? kw I could say: there is nothing other than the play, the text, but naturally imagination plays a part – and that is what the opera is about – and as an actor and audience member we are left with playful questions and possible answers. But we don’t know what we don’t know. Naturally we all have our own

ideas and ask questions. I firmly believe that Eva and Walther will not stay in Nuremberg. They will leave, move away, as young people all over the world do; they move to big cities, lead a more liberal life and have a child. We know that the real-life Sachs married again in old age and had more children. Perhaps we should wish that for him. Perhaps he will become very rich and have a career in politics. He is a very gifted manipulator. Beckmesser will resign from the guild because they offered the mastership to Walther. ol Did Wagner see himself as Wal­ ther or rather as Hans Sachs? kw I have given a lot of thought to this dramaturgic question. And the longer I work on the Ring cycle, Lohengrin, and above all Tristan und Isolde, the more strongly I feel about this question. Wagner had a fascinating way of writing. It consisted of separating the characters into sections, as if they were different sides of the same coin. I think that Walther, Beckmesser, Sachs, perhaps even Eva and David are all different aspects of one individual. So at times Sachs sees himself in David, when he wants to flirt... This realisation was a contributing factor in how I staged the opera; namely in that everything revolves around Hans Sachs. He is projected onto the different characters and is almost always reflected in them. In them, different aspects of Sachs are revealed. A complex, somewhat dramaturgic method that fascinates me! Sometimes it almost seems as if there are no other characters in this opera, the whole thing has increasingly become a mono-drama with Sachs as we delve further into his thoughts.



HOLD ON TO YOUR HEART AROUND SACHS: YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE WITH HIM! THE HISTORY OF THE COMPOSITION OF DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG Richard Wagner took 23 years to write the opera Die Meistersinger von Nürn­ berg. He completed the first draft while taking the waters in the Bohemian town of Marienbad in 1845. Die Meistersinger then accompanied Wagner to Venice and Vienna, to Paris, Mainz and Leipzig, to Biebrich on the Rhine and to Triebschen on Lake Geneva, until finally the world première took place in Munich in 1868. Every town marks a significant station in the composition history of Wagner’s (comic) opera. Prominent individuals in Wagner’s life are associated with Die Meistersinger: Mathilde Wesendonck, Eduard Hanslick, Hans Richter, King Ludwig II, Franz Liszt, Cosima Wagner and Hans von Bülow – not forgetting his daughter Eva, born on 17 February 1867 and named after the Eva in Die Meistersinger which at this point was close to completion.

MARIENBAD 1845 At the beginning of July 1845, Wagner moved with his wife Minna into accommodations in the spa town of Marienbad where he planned to rest from his work as Kapellmeister in Dresden. But as was so often the case, Wagner used the time less for recuperation than for productive work. In just a few weeks, the first drafts of Die Meisters­ inger were drawn up, as well as those for Lohengrin and Parsifal. Wagner studied The History of German Poetry by Georg Gottfried Gervinus, and in particular the chapter on meistergesang; he was already familiar with the opera Hans Sachs by Albert Lortzing. Using these as sources, Wagner prepared the first prose draft for Die Meistersinger, which he completed on 16 July 1845 and which contained the main ele-



ments of the plot of what was to become the opera. Wagner’s basic idea was to write a comic complement to Tannhäuser, which he had recently completed. “Just as the Athenians had a jolly satyr follow a tragedy, while travelling for pleasure the idea of a comic piece suddenly occurred to me, which could in fact serve as a relational satyr to my minstrel contest on Wartburg. This was Die Meistersinger zu Nürnberg headed up by Hans Sachs” Wagner wrote in 1851 in A Communication to my Friends. How­ ever, Wagner soon turned his attention from Die Meistersinger to work on Lohengrin instead.

VENICE 1861 It was not until 16 years later than Wagner returned to the Meistersinger story. Together with Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck, Richard Wagner visited Venice in November 1861. Wagner evidently had a formative experience standing before Titian’s altarpiece of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, comparable to his Good Friday inspiration for Parsifal: “Despite my apathy, I had to admit that Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin Mary had a truly sublime effect on me, so that almost immediately I felt my old strength return to me. I resolved to complete Die Meistersinger.” However, a short time before this, Wagner had written to his publisher Scott in Mainz requesting an advance for Die Meistersinger, which he expected to complete by November 1862. So the inspiration Wagner found in Venice was perhaps not completely unexpected. Mathilde Wesendonck and Wagner talked in Venice about Die Meistersinger, and Mathilde urged

Wagner to take up work on the piece again. The prose sketch from Marienbad came into her possession as a gift from Richard, and she promised to send him the draft.

VIENNA, NOVEMBER/ DECEMBER 1861 – PARIS, DECEMBER 1861/ JANUARY 1862 After four days, Wagner left Venice and is said to have developed the initial elements of the music on the train ride to Vienna. “The journey from Venice to Vienna was rather long: for two full, long nights and one day I sat helplessly wedged between Long Ago and Now, travelling into the gloom. (...) Now it lingered in my mind, as an overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” Wagner wrote to Mathilde in December 1861. Back in Vienna, Wagner studied the Book of the Fair Art of the Master­ singers by Johann Christoph Wagenseil at the Imperial Court Library. In November 1861, the second and third prose drafts for Die Meistersing­ er were written. On 3 December in Mainz, he read excerpts from the drafts to Schott and other guests, then travelled that same evening to Paris, where Mathilde Wesendonck had sent his 1845 prose draft to him in December. “I bless the resumption of this work and look forward to it as I would a celebration. I hardly dared cherish such hope” Mathilde wrote to Wagner on 25 December 1861. Wagner answered from Paris: “how astonished you will be when you hear my Meistersinger! Hold on to your heart around Sachs: you will fall in love with



him! It is a marvellous work. The old draft afforded little or perhaps nothing. Indeed, one must have been in paradise finally to realise what was hiding in it!” He attached the “Cobbler’s song” from act 2 of Die Meistersinger. Wagner completed the literary template of Die Meistersinger in his hotel room in 30 days. On 25 January the text was complete. The first musical elements also began to appear, including the famous “Wach auf” (Awake) chorus to verses by Hans Sachs.

BIEBRICH 1862/LEIPZIG 1862 In spring 1862, Wagner moved back to a country house in Biebrich in order to focus his attention on Die Meistersinger. There he composed the prelude: “as I was admiring a beautiful sunset (...) the prelude to my Meistersinger, which I had once seen as a distant mirage in a bleak setting, appeared this time close to my soul and in great detail” Wagner recalls in My Life. A memorial plaque on the villa reminds visitors to Biebrich of this to this day. In Leipzig, the prelude was premièred on 2 June 1862 in an almost empty Gewandhaus with Hans von Bülow on the rostrum. On 1 November Wagner himself conducted a performance of the prelude, once again before a small audience at the Leipzig Gewandhaus.

VIENNA, 23 NOVEMBER 1862/1863

fiably felt attacked by the character of Beckmesser, whom Wagner had originally named Veit Hanslich. In doing so, Wagner had made a permanent enemy of Hanslick, who had harsh words for the opera at the Viennese world première of Die Meistersinger in 1870. “Wagner’s music is absolutely disastrous when it comes to conveying comedy; it is constantly stilted, overfraught, even obnoxious. The ghastly dissonances through which the ’comic’ Beckmesser complains and moans would be better suited as accompaniment to the dreadful scenes of a gothic drama (...)” On 26 December 1862 Wagner gave his first concert in Vienna at the old Musikverein where Empress Elisabeth was also in attendance. The performance was a huge success, and even the empress applauded approvingly. The “Assembly of the mastersingers” and “Pogner’s address” were performed for the first time on this occasion, and the prelude was also on the programme. Two more concerts conducted by Wagner followed for the New Year. Financially, the concerts made a loss, which was covered by friends and admirers. Nevertheless, Wagner decided to make Vienna his primary residence and rented a floor in a villa in Penzing at great expense. There, in what the Viennese called the “Wagner Villa” on Hadikgasse Wagner wrote the orchestration to act 1 of Die Meistersinger.

MUNICH 1864 In Vienna, on 23 November 1862 Wagner read from his Meistersinger at the home of the doctor Josef Standhartner. Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick was among the guests and quite justi-

On 4 May 1864 Wagner was received for the first time by Ludwig II, an event that had well-known and far-reaching consequences for Wagner’s life and



for music history. Ludwig II became a patron of Wagner’s. For the composition of Die Meistersinger, this initially meant a setback, as Ludwig II preferred Wagner’s work on the Ring des Nibelungen and Tristan und Isolde. For the time being, Wagner set Die Meister­ singer aside. On 18 October 1864, after receiving a significant amount of money, Wagner made a “gift” of other scores to Ludwig II, including the incomplete Meistersinger.

TRIEBSCHEN, APRIL 1866 TO OCTOBER 1867 On 15 April 1866 Wagner moved into the villa in Triebschen on Lake Geneva, and on 12 May Cosima followed with their three daughters to be with Wagner permanently from then on. In Triebschen, Wagner focused on the score of Die Meistersinger. It was not for no reason that when Ludwig II paid a surprise visit to Wagner for his birthday, he had himself announced as “Walter von Stolzing.” On 6 September Wagner completed act 2 of Die Meistersinger. Starting in October, Wagner worked on act 3 and composed the “Hymn of Praise”, to which he wrote the words on Christmas Eve 1866. On 28 January 1867 Wagner made the momentous decision to add a final song by Hans Sachs. Cosima told Ludwig II about this in a letter: “Our friend will be astounded to find Hans Sachs’s new stanza in the music. It was written at night between 2 and 3 in the morning on 28 January, after I had discussed the closing of the opera for an entire day.” Franz Liszt paid a short visit to Triebschen on 9 October 1867 to settle

the unfortunate situation between Cosima, Richard and Hans von Bülow; however the expected altercation did not take place, and the two men reconciled over the strains of Die Meister­ singer about which Liszt expressed his enthusiasm. “Liszt’s visit: dreaded but delightful,” Wagner wrote in My Life.

TRIEBSCHEN, 24 OCTOBER 1867 On 24 October 1867 Wagner sent a tele­gram from Triebschen to Hans von Bülow: “This evening on the dot of 8 pm the last C was written. Please join me in silent celebration – Sachs.” After more than 20 years, Die Meistersinger was finally complete. The young musical director Hans Richter, Wagner’s secretary since 1866, copied the score and Ludwig II received it as a wellcalculated Christmas present, but the world première of the opera was yet to be arranged.

MUNICH, 21 JUNE 1868 Preparations for the première were made with no expense spared. On St John’s Day 1868 the première of Die Meistersinger finally took place at the Court Theatre in Munich, with Hans von Bülow conducting. The opera became a huge success for Wagner. Ludwig II called Wagner into his box, and from there Wagner stood to receive the ovations. Die Meistersinger, the completion of which had occupied Wagner for so long, was to be one of the greatest successes in Wagner’s lifetime and his most popular opera – in bright times and in dark days alike.


Next pages: SCENE

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DREAM WORK: THE INNER WORLD OF DIE MEISTERSINGER I. INTRODUCTION The Romantic era was marked by an obsession with the blurred border between the real and the imagined; waking and dreaming. It was often in dreams, whether through natural sleep or by substance induced altered consciousness, that artists of this period found their greatest inspiration. Witness Lewis Carroll’s dreamlike Al­ ice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), the nightmarish late poetry of The Raven (1845) from the alcoholic hallucinations of Edgar Allen Poe, and the dream of the Blue Flower which frames the fantastical stream of consciousness narrative of Novalis’ Henry von Ofter­

dingen (1802). Works so inspired are commonly referred to as “Dream Art” to signify either their direct genesis in dreams or their characteristic dreamlike features. The creative masters of the 19th century probed motivations submerged in the unconscious mind and exposed the innermost thoughts, hopes, and fears of their fellowman in this age of the birth of disciplines, including that of modern psychology. Even though also powerfully stimulated by the natural wonders of the physical world around them, this was a generation of thinkers that ultimately looked inward for their inspiration. Few figures in the history of Western art have left as extensive a record




of their life-long fascination with all manner of altered consciousness states as has Richard Wagner. Indeed, recollections of his own dreams dominate Wagner’s autobiographical record. In particular, the diaries of his second wife, Cosima Wagner, are so filled with references to his personal dreams and his attempts to make sense of them that they are akin to the dream journals utilised today in clinical research. Cosima’s Diaries constitute a day-by-day account of the final 15 years of the composer’s life, and each entry typically begins with her recounting of any dream he reported to her upon awakening! Nearly every page in Cosima’s vast compilation demonstrates Wagner’s focus on his own dreams and his proclivity to use the metaphor of dreams and dreaming to explain himself and his compositions. Richard Wagner’s opus exemplifies the Romantic obsession with altered consciousness, and examining his work through the “Dream Art” lens can yield valuable insights. In particular, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg offers especially fertile ground for such an examination as it contains a cornucopia of references to dreams and dreaming, desires and delusions, and reflections about what is real and what is imagined. Meistersinger can be seen as a penetrating multi-faceted masterpiece that is ultimately driven by the inner worlds of its finely drawn and palpably “human” characters.

II. TRÄUME: DREAMS IN SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY, AND RELIGION The Romantics were not the first to wonder about the significance of their

dreams. Mankind has pondered the mystery of dreaming since the beginning of recorded history. In Wagner’s time, intellectuals such as Johann Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche pondered states of mind and recognised the role of dreams as portals. In particular, the work of Schopenhauer, especially his magnum opus, The World As Will and Idea (originally published in 1819 and re-published in 1844) made a deep impression on Wagner as he entered mid-career. Schopenhauer argued that man’s perception of the world is the product of his imagination, emotions, and yearnings as well as his observations, and that reality is a heterogeneous construct that incorporates the dream life as well as the waking existence. All of these aspects of existence are equally parts of the individual’s reality, and that the key to overcoming man’s discontent with existence is in achieving balance with all components of life through the renunciation of the Will. Schopenhauer was an early student of Eastern philosophy, and his major work reflects the basic teachings of Buddhism. The time of the re-publication of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea in 1844, marked also the publication of the monumental In­ troduction to the History of Indian Bud­ dhism by the French scholar Eugène Burnouf which was well known to Wagner and introduced his generation of intellectuals to Buddhist thought. The Buddhist Sutras (i.e. ancient Tantric scriptures) attest to the importance of meditation and dreaming to gaining self-insight, equate the waking life and the world of dreams and of imagination as all part of a unified


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existence, and teach that the pain of existence can be overcome by achieving inner harmony through control of attachment. Oneness with the cosmos, referred to as the Buddhist state of Nirvana, is attained through renunciation of the Will as guided by the instruction received through both waking and dreamt experiences. Dreaming is considered so crucial to completing the circle of existence in Tantric traditions that meditations called Dream Yoga Practice are used by some to augment their ability to “wake up” within their dreams. Such heightened creative dream states are called “lucid dreams” and are highly valued in Eastern spiritual traditions as important assists on the path to enlightenment. In this context, recall that the very word, “Buddha”, the name given to Siddhartha Gautama the historical founder of the religion bearing his name, is itself a reflection of the porous border between dreaming and waking as it means “the awakened one.” The Eastern spiritual concepts of mindfulness and the Western philosophical tradition which pondered questions of reality and consciousness came together in the work of Romantic era philosophers and artists. The 20th century saw the birth of the scientific study of dreams with the work of Freud and Jung. The Austrian physician, Sigmund Freud, centered his theoretical work and clinical practice on dream analysis, and his monumental classic on the subject, The In­ terpretation of Dreams (1899), appeared at the very dawn of the new century. Freud hypothesised that dreams reflected our unconscious desires and that the dream state enabled these deep seated nearly forgotten desires to briefly bubble up into our conscious-

ness in our nocturnal quest for wish fulfilment. Dreams have both manifest content (i.e. the remembered images as directly seen in the dream), as well as latent content (i.e. our thoughts and desires as indirectly portrayed through symbolism in the dream). The task of the psychoanalyst was to use this clinical “material” from recalled dreams to help the patient decipher this latent content of their dreams in an attempt to resolve the intrapsychic conflicts reflected in these dreams and thus heal the troubled mind. Although Freud deserves our admiration as the great scientific pioneer exploring dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious”, his theories were limited by his insistence that nearly all dreams had latent content of an invariably infantile sexual nature. Subsequent psychoanalytic work principally that of his student, Carl Jung, provided compelling alternatives to Freud’s theories which can explain universal human psychic functioning. Jung expanded on the Freudian foundation with his exploration of “archetypes” (i.e. universal culturally conditioned symbolism appearing in dreams), his interpretive concentration on the manifest content of dreams, and his challenge of the central importance of repressed infantile sexual desires. Jungian dream analysis embraces the multidimensional nature of reality and the importance of all dream layers, including the blending of waking and dreaming states, such as that which characterises the lucid dreams so highly prized in the East, and brings these components squarely into Western interpretive practice. As lucid dreaming will be especially important in our analysis of Meis­ tersinger, some background on this




special subcategory of dreams is necessary. All dreams are characterised by a cacophony of both familiar and unfamiliar images and by the fluidity of person, place, and time. They are a kind of post-dramatic theater of the mind; they bombard the sleeper with multiple and sometimes conflicting images and narrative lines, and can generate rapidly shifting emotional responses. In the usual case, the dreamer may be an actor or a spectator within the dream, but, during the experience, he has no awareness that it is “only a dream.” Typically, it is upon awakening from sleep that the realisation comes that a dream has occurred. The lucid dream is a unique form of especially powerful dreaming that has been long recognised but has only in the past 50 years been objectively confirmed by brain imaging sleep studies. The earliest documentation in the West of the “awake while dreaming” phenomenon was provided by the French sinologist Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys in 1867, and the term “lucid dream” was subsequently coined in 1913 by a Dutch psychiatrist, Frederik von Eeden. The chief characteristic of a lucid dream (as opposed to non–lucid dreaming) is that once the dream is underway, the dreamer awakes in the experience and, still sleeping, realises that he is dream­ ing. At this point, the now lucid dreamer can sometimes control the course of the dream. If the lucid dreamer can direct the subsequent imagery and influence the outcome of the dream, he can only do so to the extent that such direction still conforms to the overall framework of the dream already in progress. This power to control the progress of the dream will leave the lucid dreamer with a sense of exhila-

ration and empowerment upon finally arising from sleep. A dreamer awakens to the fact that he is dreaming generally when he recognises images from the material world that are somewhat “off” as presented in the dream, and these discrepancies alert him, while remaining asleep, that he is in a dream. The outcome willed in the dream space will often translate into creative problem solving in the waking life of the individual. Herein lays the function and great value of lucid dreaming as a vital bridge between the two realities of existence -- the imagined or dreamt and the corporeal. The lucid dream is the most powerful and potentially enlightening of all dream experiences, and, significantly, the dream that Walther von Stolzing relates in act 3 of Meis­ tersinger is the perfect case example of a lucid dream!

III. MEISTERSINGER AS SEEN THROUGH THE DREAMS AND DREAM METAPHORS OF ITS CHARACTERS MACROANALYTIC OVERVIEW Meistersinger is an enigmatic work; it is not what at first it appears to be. Although classified as an operatic “comedy”, it is nonetheless a deep examination of the human condition. If we analyse Meistersinger according to the principles specified by Henri Bergson in his 1911 classic, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Com­ ic, then it qualifies as a work of the highest and most complex category of stage comedy. The characters in Meis­ tersinger appear immediately recognisably human and “real” in that, like us, they do battle with their inner demons as they struggle through their some-


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times comedic, other times tragic, life journeys. Framing it all, philosophical questions on the nature of the Will and the porous border between reality and unreality, the conscious and the unconscious, drive Meistersinger as much as the tragic works of Wagner. None of the characters in Meistersinger are satisfied with what or who they are -- all strive to become something else, and this contradiction between what is and what is desired, the here-and-now and their visions for their future selves, is expressed through the dreams they relate and through the dream analogies that they consistently use to describe their world. Each in their own way, they all muse on what is real and what is not. On the “macro” level of analysis, as Volker Mertens, Timothy McFarland, and others have observed, the very setting of Meistersinger is itself an artefact. The Nuremberg presented by Wagner is a uniquely 19th century idealised vision of the place – the “Nürnberg Myth.” The historical town in the 16th century was not at all like the Nuremberg presented by Wagner. The real Nuremberg of Dürer and Sachs was closer to being a Gesellschaft, a modern regulation-bound impersonal society, than the Gemeinschaft, i.e. a community based on shared customs and familiarity, that Wagner presented and for which his audience of the newly founded German nation yearned. Like a dream image, Wagner’s Nuremberg emerges as something vaguely recognisable but not quite like historical reality. In addition, the poetic structure of Meistersinger evokes the worlds of dreams and the process of dreaming. Most obvious is the observation that the text, unlike any other work in

Wagner, is based on rhymed couplets and over the long expanse of this massive structure, the constant use of this poetic device exerts a hypnotic effect. We are placed in a dream-like state as we watch a stage picture and storyline unfold that often appears anachronistic and surreal, as, for example, a 16th century cobbler-poet who muses on Schopenhauerian concepts accompanied by a late 19th century orchestra mimicking archaic compositional forms. Added to this, is the consistent use of Romantic irony in the text, as detailed by Mary Cicora in her important book Modern Myths and Wagnerian De­ constructions, Hermeneutic Approaches to Wagner’s Music Dramas (published in 2000). Characters regularly come out of character to comment on their situation, akin to lucid dreamers who are awake while they dream and can evaluate their own dream existence. Sachs, in particular, is constantly switching from being inside to outside of the action in that he serves as a kind of onstage director of the drama as well as a character in the drama. Cicora points out that the work simultaneously operates on both the literal and the figurative level, and her insightful analysis traces the numerous examples in the libretto of doubling, play-acting, mirroring, and style masking (this latter in terms of the music) that drive the irony. She has, in effect, perfectly described the non-linearity and mixture of imagery and multiplicity of content that typically occurs in dreams. We also note that the entirety of act 2 takes place in a vaguely liminal space which Wagner described in his original stage set directions as, in part, “a narrow alley winding off crookedly towards the back of the stage.” He de-




scribes how houses, steps, and trees line this space further breaking up the sightlines and complicating the stage picture. As the act progresses, the evening deepens and night eventually descends to further obscure some of the detail. It is significant that, for Meister­ singer, this is the only night scene, the time of sleep and dreams, and it is an act that is opened and closed by a Nightwatchman who puts the town to bed. Certainly, Wagner has described a typical late Middle Ages nocturnal street scene, but, as always in Meisters­ inger, nothing is only as it appears. Is Wagner using this crooked, winding urban street nightscape as a metaphor for the unconscious mind with its similarly mysterious, half lit, and convoluted pathways of thought which reveals itself in part during dreams? We interpret his description of eventide in a Nuremberg alley as being potentially a dreamscape. Indeed, this act will serve as the setting in which all of these citizens of Wagner’s Nuremberg will dream. Finally, it is notable that Eva begins the celebrated act 3 Quintet by anchoring it firmly as a dream reverie. Each of the other participants in this exquisite ensemble carry forward the dream analogy as each wonder if they might be dreaming this moment or if they are indeed awake. In Eva’s case, the awakening that she refers to in the Quintet has the double significance of the literal meaning of waking from the beautiful “dream” of hearing a portion of Walther’s Prize Song, and the figurative meaning of her joyful anticipation of full transition into womanhood when her beloved wins her hand later that day in the song contest. The Meis­ tersinger Quintet is a profoundly spiri-

tual moment; in this magical moment of caesura of action there is benediction not only over the two couples but over the audience as we bear witness to this transformative miracle. For those on stage and in the audience it is clear in this instant that dreams are reality, and the always blurred line in Meisters­ inger between waking experiences and dreamt visions has now fully evaporated. It is significant that Wagner chose dream imagery for this moment of supreme grace which is the apex of this masterpiece on the spiritual plane and with respect to the rite de passage of Eva and Walther.

IV. A DREAM ART ANALYSIS SOLUTION TO THE CONCLUSION OF THE FESTIVAL MEADOW SCENE The concluding roughly ten minutes of Meistersinger typically pose serious challenges for modern production teams. The problem begins with Wal­ ther’s refusal to accept the medal offered by Pogner which signifies his induction into the Mastersinger’s Guild upon winning the song contest. It is significant that he emphatically rejects his new status by exclaiming: “Nicht Meister! Nein! Will ohne Meister selig sein!” (“Not Master! No! I will be blessed without Masterhood.”). It is important to note that the German adjective “selig” has the connotation of spiritual joy; this nuance of translation will be critical as our argument continues. Sachs rebukes Walther for his refusal of the honor by delivering an explanation (i.e. the monologue “Verachtet mir die Meister nicht”), which is generally perceived by modern audiences as a menacing, xenophobic, tirade as the


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cobbler-poet warns of future hostile foreign threats to German life and culture. There is a distinct disconnect between what we are now hearing and our prior inclination to see Meistersinger as a genial creation and Sachs as a benign father figure. The accolades of the crowd repeating Sachs’ ultra-nationalistic sentiments are the last voices that we hear in the work, and, if this final tableau is understood literally, it runs the risk of leaving us with a bitter aftertaste. How can a consideration of Meistersinger as Dream Art help us reconcile these final moments with the rest of the work? Our recognition of the unique power of Walther as dreamer provides a solution. Meistersinger tracks the riteof-passage of Walther from a sensitive young man with surging emotions to enlightened mature lover and disciplined artist. His dreams light his way along this developmental path and he creatively uses the insights gained through those dreams to master himself and his situation. Walther is a close kin to Parsifal in that they are both on a vision quest journey of self-discovery and enlightenment. Like Wagner’s “Pure Fool”, the key to Walther’s mastery lies in the Schopenhauerian principle of renunciation of the Will and in the closely allied Buddhist path to enlightenment through avoidance of distracting attachments (i.e. delusions or “Wahn”) and empathy for others. Walther proves able to draw insight from all dimensions of reality, both from the conscious, waking, state and from the unconscious mind as released in dreams. True mindfulness requires the use of the entire mind, and for that, one must consider all things closely, to learn and grow, and to dream, just

as Walther announced was his method in “Am stillen Herd” when he first entered the drama. So, what has he learned, how did he learn it, and how might our knowledge of these things change the manner in which we view the conclusion of Meistersinger? To answer these questions we must reconsider the act 2 riot at the heart of Meistersinger. The street brawl witnessed by Walther was not the innocent stuff of slapstick comedy; rather it was an eruption of violence that scarred Beckmesser both physically and psychologically, and which also traumatised Walther and provided the catalyst for his insight. This display of communal “Wahn” instigated by Sachs opened his eyes to recognise delusion. He recognises Sachs’ role in starting the riot and in staging the humiliation of Beckmesser, and this recognition of these faults in Sachs character signals to him that, although the cobbler poet can teach him the principles of the master-song, he is not a role model for larger life lessons. Sachs intellectually understands the dangers of Wahn, but he has not mastered it in himself. It is very significant that Walther’s night of dreaming in this interlude between the riot and the dawning of Johannistag is the point during which he has the lucid dream of enlightenment that produces both the raw material for the Prize Song and achieves his integration of all he has witnessed but previously imperfectly understood. Importantly, after witnessing Beckmesser’s humiliation in act 2, Walther never again is seen or heard to express negative emotion towards his rival. Walther’s recognition of the complexity of Sachs’ nature, his realisation of his teacher’s intellectual gifts and pride of status in




the community, but his blind spot of empathy for the less fortunate Beckmesser, is reinforced on the Festival Meadow where he witnesses Sachs’ second humiliation of the town clerk and the crowd’s merciless jeering of the contestant’s ill-conceived song. So, we come at last to Walther’s rejection of Mastersinger Guild membership with his statement that he would be “blessed” enough without that status. His meaning is now clear: he does not crave the empty delusion of status; his goal was to gain the love of Eva and that is all he takes with him as prize. Sachs’ nationalistic rant, indeed any rationalisation about the value of this Mastersinger delusion, falls on his deaf ears. Walther recognises the sentiment expressed by Sachs in his closing monologue as pure, unadulterated “Wahn”, and the third of his three

great examples of error and delusion on display during the course of the drama. Placing the Meistersinger’s medal around his neck has no meaning for him, nor does the laurel wreath of victory placed on his head which he is all too happy to relinquish to Sachs, who takes pride and satisfaction from such empty pomp. The crowd still clings to the delusion of glory in nationalism and of the Mastersinger’s art, but Walther hears none of this. At curtain fall, this now enlightened young man who stumbled into a delusion has escaped it through the insights gained from his lucid dreaming. Walther von Stolzing has learned how to love, and he now sees only his beloved and hears the acclaim of the crowd for Sachs in the brilliant but anti-climactic final moments of the work only as a confirmation of his own enlightenment.


Next pages: SCENE


IS ART WHAT MATTERS HERE? THE TRIANGULATION OF ART, LOVE AND POLITICS IN DIE MEISTERSINGER In the tender scene for Eva and Hans Sachs (act 2, scene 4), in which the two characters muse wistfully on a relationship that might have been, a phrase is put into Eva’s mouth that on one level seems to sum up Die Meister­ singer, but on other levels raises more questions than it answers. Discussing possible candidates for the song competition the following day, Sachs suggests that he is too old for Eva. Her Delphic, teasing response – “Hier gilt’s der Kunst” (Art is what matters here) – implies that she would happily consent to Sachs if he were to win by the rules. It’s a sentiment that speaks to the evident affection they have for each other. The key is A flat major (a tonality frequently associated in Wagner’s works with the blossoming of love) and the markings sehr zart (very tender), dolce and dolcissimo. Their recalling of how Sachs used to dandle the infant Eva

undoubtedly adds a certain frisson to this scene. Affectionate as Eva’s comment may seem to be, it’s also disingenuous: Her paramour is of course Walther, whom she desperately wants to win the competition. Much as she claims that art validates love, it’s not really art that matters here for Eva: at this point, for her, art is a kind of proxy, or surrogate, for love. We will return to this problematic phrase in due course. For the moment we should note that while she may not be one of Wagner’s more forceful, world-redeeming female characters, she is strong-willed enough to challenge social preconceptions if necessary to secure the object of her love. Here, then, we see art and love as two of the defining themes of the work. Art and love are traditionally fused, of course, in the figure of the Muse, and



Walther’s love for Eva is to inspire him in the final act to create the prize-winning song. But hovering over the entire work is the ghost of the real-life person of Mathilde Wesendonck, Wagner’s one-time lover, the emotional scars of their relationship leaving profound traces on the work. By the time he began serious work on Die Meistersinger, Wagner’s (probably unconsummated) affair with Mathilde was effectively over. Forced in 1857 to leave the Asyl outside Zurich, where Mathilde had been able to visit him in his study on a daily basis via a pergola joining their adjacent residences, Wagner had by November 1861 (the date of the second and third prose drafts) come to the realisation that Mathilde was not going to abandon husband and family for him. The character of Hans Sachs from here on displays a sense of resignation (about love, about the world) that fascinatingly mirrors Wagner’s own strategy for coping with the loss of Mathilde. The conventional image of Sachs as benevolent, worldly-wise poet-cobbler needs to be challenged. On closer inspection he has some alarmingly negative qualities too. For one thing, he occupies a realm of blurred reality where art and life are barely distinguished. Immersing himself in the world of the imagination, he loses touch with reality. In his act 3 Wahn Monologue he muses on mankind’s potential for cruelty and violence: suffering from the mad illusions of the world (“Wahn”) the individual digs into his own flesh [“er sich wühlt ins eig’ne Fleisch”], oblivious to his own cry of pain. And slowly Sachs comes to acknowledge his own role in the riot of the night before: “a cobbler in his

shop/plucks at the thread of madness” [ein Schuster in seinem Laden/zieht an des Wahnes Faden] is how he puts it here. In fact it’s his own malicious, jealous hammer-beating accompaniment to Beckmesser’s serenade to Eva that leads inexorably to the outburst of communal violence. Who or what does he blame? A goblin [“ein Kobold”] who “set the trouble in motion” [der hat den Schaden angericht]. What is this irrational force he’s trying to confront? Sachs seems to be acknowledging his inner demon and we may perhaps see the riot as a metaphor of Sachs’ mental crisis – a breakdown of sorts. Irrational, inhumane elements triumph over one’s better instincts, with the demons now in control. His Wahn Monologue implicitly recognises this state of affairs. Elsewhere we sense him prey to fleshly desires and imaginings, notwithstanding his sorrowful recollection of his wife (the historical Sachs predeceased his first wife and all their children). Perhaps he even recognises aspects of Beckmesser within himself. Indeed, there is a sense in which Sachs, Beckmesser and Walther constitute three parts of a single entity. For one thing they are all outsiders, with the compromised mental equilibrium that outsiders characteristically suffer from, though the potential for healing is also present. Sachs is barely able to master his own worst instincts and must take a share of responsibility for the riot. But he also suffers in the process. His emotional trajectory over the course of the opera is commonly regarded as the learning of resignation, or as behavioural psychologists are more inclined to say today, “acceptance.” But it comes, if it comes at all, at a huge



psychical cost. Beckmesser, for his part, is psychically damaged throughout and whether he is ever able to find peace with the community remains an open question at the end. In this production, Beckmesser, like any reject, finds his own whipping-boy. Walther, who often comes across initially as impatient and arrogant, grows spiritually; by act 3 he is a calmer, wiser man. It is to Walther that Sachs looks, the realisation having dawned that he is not himself a great artist but a mere facilitator. Embodying new ideas and the inspiration of genius, Walther is self-evidently a better vehicle for the art of the future. As such, he provides Wagner with the exemplar he needs: the person who can build on the art of the past, refashioning its rules to create truly original and world-redeeming art. And it’s worth pointing out that the demonic element at the heart of “Wahn” has also a constructive aspect: the bile that Wagner recognised as a noxious but necessary feature of his creativity. In the Meister­ singer text this demonic element is, perhaps unexpectedly, associated with the life force within the elder tree. Another aspect of the natural world prominent in the work is its ubiquitous avian imagery. To take just one example. In the climactic continuation of Walther’s Trial Song in act 1 he likens the ejaculations of his critical adversaries to the cawing of crows and the croaking of ravens, while the free spirit soars like a golden eagle. The historical Sachs, of course, was known as the “Wittenberg Nightingale.” An interesting paradox at the heart of Die Meistersinger revolves around Wagner’s intuitive understanding of the need for compassion. A corollary of

the Wahn that besets everybody in the work is that everyone, however well endowed, wants what they don’t have. Sachs sees Walther as the innovative creative genius he might have been; Pogner would like to be seen as the generous, art-loving benefactor; Walther, tired of the aristocratic life, wants to become an itinerant artist; David wants to become a journeyman, then a master. Only Eva and Magda­ lena seem to have no desperate need to be anything else, except happily married. While this may be good karma, it does of course reflect a very 19th century patriarchal view. The lesson, as modern cognitive behavioural therapy teaches, is to learn acceptance, to adopt a more positive view of one’s situation. And there’s a link between that spirit of acceptance and the need for compassion, which involves a healing of psychic wounds. The supposedly wise Sachs has a mystical understanding of the way people cause pain to themselves and others, yet he’s quite capable of turning the screws himself. In the process, however, his own mental equilibrium is destroyed: increasingly prone to fits of depression, his “benevolent” disposition gives way to outbursts of anger and irritation. Not until Parsifal do we find a consistent message of compassion, even if it is compromised by its creator’s pernicious world view. And it is to the political sphere that we must finally turn to complete the triangulation of art/love/politics in Die Meistersinger. If art and love provide an ideal fusion around which a balanced life can be orientated, then the force that negates both is sterility. Beck­messer is the epitome of sterility: his innate inability to match words



and music – a trait Wagner identified with the Jews – is his defining feature. Such people, incapable of true creativity, were also incapable of love, Wagner maintained. It is on account of Beckmesser’s inability to evince an echt-deutsch affinity with the creative process that he is banished to the margins. Wagner’s victimisation of this out­sider, belaboured with the weapon of humour, is devastating. It is also the fear and loathing of the outsider that shapes the political dimension of the work. Beckmesser embodies all the negative aspects of Wagner’s world-view: he’s at once sterile, a critic, a pedant and evinces stereotypically antisemitic characteristics (while not being literally a Jew). The motto “Hier gilt’s der Kunst” was commandeered by the composer’s son Siegfried Wagner after World War I, and again by his grandsons Wieland and Wolfgang after World War II, to purge the Bayreuth Festival of Nazi associations. By proclaiming art as the raison d’être they hoped to distract attention from the work’s political dimension. The fact is that Die Meister­ singer is deeply political. How could it not be when Wagner, at the time of composing it, was actively forging links between politics and art? In our own time, the fusion of politics and

megalomaniac, often narcissistic, fantasy threatens a precipitous decline into fascism. That is one of the dangers of the blurring of the boundaries between fantasy and reality that Sachs displays. And in this production the chronological setting shifts seamlessly between medieval Nuremberg, the mid-19th century of the work’s creation, the 1940s of the postwar reckoning and the global modern era. Nor is the triumphal C major of the work’s conclusion as reassuring as it sounds; earlier commentators, not least Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno, have pointed out the oppressive imposition of order, harmony and inevitability on a chaotically disordered and incipiently violent social reality. How are we to respond? There are no easy answers in Die Meistersinger. One thing is clear. The audience should not leave the theatre, despite the heartwarming final pages of the score, with an undiluted glow of satisfaction that lives have been transformed. The turbulence we have witnessed should ring alarm bells. Wahn is still with us. It will always be with us, goading us to tear the flesh of our fellow human beings, even as we strive for spiritual progress. That is perhaps the greatest insight – and the challenge – of Die Meistersinger.




BEATINGS AS POGROMS V I E N N A’ S H E L D E N P L A T Z S Q UA R E AS THE NUREMBERG FESTWIESE HOW WAGNER’S MEISTERSINGER WAS INTEGRATED INTO THE AUSTRIA’S FOUNDATIONAL MYTH AND HOW THAT LEGITIMIZED ANTISEMITIC VIOLENCE. When Austria staged the end of the Allied occupation in 1955 as the seeming foundation of the state (actually established in 1945), the opening of the Vienna State Opera (besides the Burgtheater) was the most prominent opportunity to present itself. The fact that Karl Böhm as a famous former Nazi was the focus of attention was a clear signal to continue where Nazi cultural policy has left of, as historians have shown in the last decades. Böhm had been director of the Vienna State Opera, but was removed in 1945, a circumstance he neither concealed nor played down in his opening speech ten years later. Instead, he recast the new beginning as a continuation. In front of the microphones for the audience in the house and the radio stations, Böhm declared openly: “What’s more, I was inspired by the thought that back then, when this building fell victim to the WOLFGANG KOCH as BECKMESSER MICHAEL VOLLE as HANS SACHS

bombs, I stood at the head of this institution as its director. That it appears my very person thus creates a certain continuity leading from yesterday to today.” Besides the personal links, the event of Austrian self representation in 1955 was also marked by musical references to the past. The evening programme for the opening included Beethoven’s Fide­ lio, which had earlier been performed to celebrate the “Anschluss” of Austria to Nazi Germany in March 1938. But the first music heard in public in the new Haus am Ring was not from Fidelio. At the official celebration on the morning of the opening, Böhm followed two short pieces by Franz Schmidt and J. S. Bach by placing Wagner’s Meistersinger at the heart of the programme, concluding with Johann Strauss’s An der schönen blauen Donau. This Wagner-Strauss-Beethoven trinity reflects the three central fea-



tures of Austria’s chosen image at the start of the Second Republic. The reference to Strauss and (the Austrianised) Beethoven emphasised the differences between Germany and the two stereotypes of Austrian conviviality and cultural superiority. Strauss and the cliché of Vienna’s waltzing light-heartedness was essential after 1945 to distance itself from (Nazi) Germany. To the present day, this self-characterisation under diverse slogans (“A country that knows how to live” is the current brand concept in tourist advertising for Austria) is a core element of presentations of Austria. Beethoven in turn, as a “great Austrian” and one of the much-vaunted “great sons”, is an ideal symbol of Austria as supposedly Great Power in culture. What is surprising from today’s perspective however, is that Böhm chose Richard Wagner at such a volatile moment of national profiling (and even more so for the ceremonial climax after the official presentation of the keys) and selected from his works the overture to his Meistersinger von Nürn­ berg with its Antisemitic con­notations. This “most German of all works” contradicts the principle of distancing Austria from Germany. In 1955, however, this appeared to be just an abstract claim of an Austrian nationalism whose tenets had not been settled. For the contemporary public, Wagner symbolised largely uncontested membership of a “German nation.” Böhm duly felt obliged in his opening speech to justify the choice of Strauss, but not that of Wagner (to the contrary, his argument was that Wagner himself would have accepted the waltz king’s presence alongside his own).

However, in 1955 it was not just any acknowledgement of belonging to the “German nation” which made Meister­ singer the ideal choice. At the time of the Vienna State Opera opening in 1955 the Viennese Wagner Societies had spent 80 years framing the clashes about this opera in Vienna as the great conflict between “authentic” art (meaning “German” art) and its alleged enemies – with strongly Antisemitic undertones. Directly after the Holocaust specifically and Nazi mob violence generally, however, the work had acquired a new dimension. Older reviews of Meistersinger performances note tellingly how the opera links “mature German festivity” with violence – in its famed review of the 1870 Vienna performance the Neue Freie Presse comments that the beatings scene in the second act conflicted with the nature of an entertaining opera. The brutality only becomes humorous if Beckmesser is seen as a caricature. Legitimating violence and even making it necessary. Beckmesser personifies the target of Wagnerian Antisemitism in pure form as the opposite of “authenticity” – his attempts at imitation are a threat because of the underlying destructive intent, resulting in the classic reversal of victim and perpetrator. (Wagner explicitly formulated the intent of his – fictional, Antisemitic – Jew as “absorbing German creativity only to subvert it.”) In Meistersinger Wagner not only legitimizes Antisemitic violence with the alleged attacks on “German culture” or “German character” (by destroying their “authenticity”). He also talks about the attack on the (sexual) integrity of the “German woman”, i.e. racist phantasy of a threat to the



“national” ability to reproduce. At the time of the 1955 performance of Meister­ singer the audience was directly familiar with these two basic narratives of racist Antisemitism of the 19th century. They had played a key role in the obscene Nazi propaganda to incite and justify mob violence. However, after the end of Nazi rule, cultural policy fundamentally ignored or denied how much the Antisemitic cultural output of the 19th century had paved the way for the Holocaust. Wagner continued to feature widely in the seasonal schedules – including in Vienna. This long arc links the 1955 Vienna State Opera opening with what was seen as the “triumphant” moment of the Nazi takeover in the “Anschluss” in 1938. The Nuremberg example is evident in the setting of Heldenplatz square as Nuremberg Festwiese. As in Meister­singer, the festive mood arguably required public violence. In the shadows of Heldenplatz square, Vienna became the first city in the National Socialist German Reich where people were attacked in droves as Jews and Jewesses, and humiliated by being made to scrub the streets, in the prelude to the Holocaust. For the connection with Meister­ singer, one detail often overlooked of these pogroms after the “Anschluss” in Vienna in 1938 is instructive. The violence is primarily aimed at public humiliation, seeking entertainment in brutality – tellingly, they are still euphemistically and humorously described as “scrubbing corps.” In the only known film of this violence, the camera documents the hilarity of the onlookers. The filmmaker and writer Ruth Beckerman identified these images of

almost hysterically laughing individuals as a void in the cultural memory and called for the picture of the humiliated Jewish individual scrubbing the streets to be supplemented by pictures of those directly and indirectly responsible, to render visible the framing of violence as entertainment, of the pogrom as “fun.” This unique film can accordingly be seen as a central item for March 1938 in the main exhibition at the House of Austrian History. Just as the Nuremberg Festwiese scene requires the public humiliation of Beckmesser, the “triumph” in the reopening of the Vienna State Opera 69 years ago is inseparable from National Socialism and Antisemitism, whose representatives at the time had returned to the offices and management of the opera and the key positions in the cultural policy of the young Second Republic generally. The fact that the country’s most important opera house was inaugurated with music amounting to a re-enactment of the 1938 pogroms as an entertaining tumult scene shows how secure they felt. The hilarity of the Nuremberg citizenry reflected in the 1955 audience the laughter of the Viennese onlookers at the “scrubbing corps” in 1938. The legitimising presentation of Antisemitic violence became a central moment in the unofficial self-declaration of the Second Republic as a “cultural nation.” You can read and hear Karl Böhm’s complete speech at the celebration of the opening of the Vienna State Opera in 1955 at




DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG SEASON 2023/24 PREMIÈRE OF THE PRODUCTION 4 DECEMBER 2022 Publisher WIENER STAATSOPER GMBH, Opernring 2, 1010 Wien Director DR. BOGDAN ROŠČIĆ Music Director PHILIPPE JORDAN Administrative Director DR. PETRA BOHUSLAV General Editors SERGIO MORABITO, ANDREAS LÁNG, OLIVER LÁNG Design & concept EXEX Layout & typesetting MIWA MEUSBURGER Image concept MARTIN CONRADS, BERLIN (Cover) All performance fotos by MICHAEL PÖHN Printed by PRINT ALLIANCE HAV PRODUKTIONS GMBH, BAD VÖSLAU TEXT REFERENCES All texts were taken from the Meistersinger von Nürnberg programme of the Vienna State Opera (première: December 4, 2022) except Beatings as Pogroms by Stefan Benedik. This text was first published in German in May 2024 issue of Opernring 2 magazine. COVER IMAGE Cracked Egg © Annika Lischke, Photography Jens Bösenberg. ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS Andrew Smith. Reproduction only with approval of Wiener Staatsoper GmbH / Dramaturgy. Holders of rights who were unavailable regarding retrospect compensation are requested to make contact.

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