I bought this after reading the rave review from "Mostly Opera." The critic writes of Katharina Wagner's staging: " I remember having seen negative comments related to this staging from people who had not even seen it at the time." After seeing this I have to agree with the critic that Katharina was politically judged (rather than artistically judged) because of who she is. To truly enjoy this staging you will probably need to accept/agree that this opera is an allegory of changes in society; about how society reacts to change and how much change it can accept."
(This is an all too apt assessment and says much about American Opera fans).
"In Act 1 we are in a 19th century brotherhood of sorts: Traditionally clad "meistersingers" sit around the table, reading small yellow books of German classics. At that time, Sachs, barefoot, is a slightly controversial outsider. But not nearly as controversial as the modern-dress Walther, who sprays paint on everything and everybody. Not a singer, but a painter, the point is driven through, by him assembling a puzzle of Nürnberg all in disorder compared to Beckmessers perfectly assembled Nürnberg puzzle.
In Act 2, the sullen Eva hangs around what looks like an East-German Canteen in the 1950's, where Sachs sits with his typewriter in the corner. In the only hint at shoemaking, sneakers seem to be dropping from the sky and all ends in an orgy of paint-throwing.
The real stuff begins in Act 3: Now Beckmesser is suddenly the outcast with his T-shirt "Beck in Town" and finds himself in Sach's fancy apartment, where the heads of the old German masters (Brahms etc.) dancing in the background. Sachs, with his elegant suit, is now constructing a neat idealised family-concept literally within the frames of a doll-house for Walther and Eva to be filmed in. How come this sudden change? Then, in the choral scene preceding the "wach auf", Sachs is captured and tied to a chair by these heads while they, often clad in underwear, perform a weird dance and Eva blindfolded walks amidst them. What is going on here, seriously? Next however, Katharina Wagners master-stroke begin in earnest with an eerie scene in which Sachs's helpers capture a stage director and conductor, putting them in a coffin, starting the fire to burn them exactly at the "wach auf" in a scene reminiscent of the Nazi epoque. Very strong theater, indeed. Et voila, what comes out of the coffin? A golden calf it seems. When a model of the auditorium emerges from under stage, we the audience are double spectators to Walther bringing home a check of 10.000 from the Nürnberg Bank, while Beckmesser now is an outcast.
The staging requires a familiarity with German culture, both ancient and present, that I perhaps do not have and there are myriads of details to discover here, as the pace is furious, especially in the third act.
To summarize, Sachs and Walther essentially submit to conformism while Beckmesser moves in the other direction.
No, Katharina Wagner does not have all the answers and admittedly the staging of the first act seems a bit heavy-handed. But then again, the first act is really long and not for the first time do I wish Wagner would have lived to revise (read: shorten) it, though I have no idea if he ever thought about that and anyway, if he had lived any longer his next project (after Parsifal) would probably have been a revision of Tannhäuser (needed as well).
More singers stand out on the DVD than I remember from the live performance, especially Franz Hawlata, underpowered in the theater but not here, taking fully advantage of the close-ups for us to see his detailed and impressive acting.
Walther really is a super role for Klaus Florian Vogt, probably his best role together with Lohengrin and Michael Volle also leaves nothing to be desired. As for the rest nobody was exceptional, one way or the other, though admittedly Michaela Kaune was vastly better than the Amanda Mace I saw the year before.
Katharina Wagner presents with the only production on DVD truly departing from medieval Nürnberg and trying to wrestle with this issues. For this alone, this is a must-see."
The NY Times, Gramophone Magazine, International Record Review, Opera Canada, ion arts, Wagner Opera net, gave this production accolades and praised Katharina for pulling off the most difficult of Wagner operas to update. After watching this several times, I have to conclude that the Mostly Opera review is spot on. Unfortunately, I also have to conclude, from reading some of the negativity here that American Opera fans have to be among the most uptight group of people in the entire world. They are even more tightly wound than Marvel Comic fans. They have turned opera into a suburbanized, historically elitist religion and, consequently, transforming it into a religion, are turning it off to new generations. One can easily see the reason for Pierre Boulez's early, dismissive remarks regarding America Opera "fans." These opera fundamentalists bellow, hiss, throw out predictable, and by now quite boring insulting phrases like "eurotrash, beat their chests and throw hostile tantrums. Why? Because they want to keep opera solely in the past. They want it edified and sacred. They reject this potentially greatest of all art forms as a vibrantly timeless art.
It is because of these puritans that American opera companies, catering to the ultra conservatives (who feel they own the art form) are forced to stage a La Boheme every single season, simply to keep themselves out of the red.
Meanwhile, Europe, which has long staged opera in contemporary settings, has a thriving opera scene.
Do the math.
The supposed American opera fans have killed the art form they claim to love. They have killed it by putting that art form on a pedestal, dehumanizing it, and keeping it stale. At the sign of even a single 21st century dress on a singer, these fans will be as sounding brass, wailing blasphemy behind the curtain.
It is no wonder opera is in its death throes here in the states. What potential music lover, under the age of thirty, would want to even explore an art form held captive by such a constipated lot?