Of Wagner’s great operas, “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” often gets overlooked when the conversation of “greatest works” begins.
The work premiered in Munich on June 21, 1868, and is admittedly one of the composer’s more intimate operas. It was not based on any major myth the way some of his other works were and its tame and comic nature make it seem ripe to overlook in the context of his other massive philosophical works.
Yet this opera is every bit as good, if not better, than many of Wagner’s best works. It’s overture has become a staple of the standard orchestral repertoire, but its themes of longing and the nature of art and its purpose are among the most immersive and potent discussions that the creator engages his audience in.
Short Plot Summary
Walther von Stolzing is in love with Eva Pogner but she is set to be given as the prize for the winner of the upcoming master singer’s contest. David, an apprentice to the cobbler Hans Sachs, urges Walther to compete to become a mastersinger and win Eva’s hand.
He heads to the meeting of the mastersingers, but his music is rejected. The only master who supports him is Hans Sachs, but he is seen as a disruptor by his greatest adversary, Beckmesser.
Eva reaches out to Sachs about the contest and is unhappy at the prospect of having to marry Beckmesser, who is the only eligible candidate in the contest. She does note that she wouldn’t mind if Sachs competed, but he, despite being in love with her, says he is too old. He tells her of Walther’s failure, confirming that she is in love with him.
Eva and Walther prepare to run off, but Sachs stops them. Beckmesser arrives to serenade Eva but is interrupted by Sachs. Eventually, David attacks him and a riot breaks out. Sachs pushes Eva back into her home and drags Walther into his workshop.
Sachs gives Walther a lesson so that he can improve in the eyes of the mastersingers. Two sections of his song are composed, but the third is left unfinished. Beckmesser arrives and spots the prize song. He believes that Sachs will compete with him. Sachs however, tells him that he has no intention of competing and hands him the song as a gift.
The lovers are reunited, and all run off to the contest.
Beckmesser makes a mess of himself in interpreting the song while Walther stuns everyone with his rendition, ultimately winning the day and Eva’s hand.
Read More on ‘Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg’
Watch and Listen
Here is a production from the Bayreuth Festival starring Bernd Weikl, Hermann Prey, Siegfried Jerusalem, and Mari Anne Häggander.