San Francisco Opera brings to the the War Memorial Opera House this week a new staging by Sir David McVicar of Wagner’s comedy opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
This co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Glyndebourne Festival Opera stars baritone James Rutherford as Hans Sachs, tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Walther von Stolzing and soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) are conducted by Sir Mark Elder – also making his debut with the Company.
The only comedy among Wagner’s mature operas, Die Meistersinger is also the only one which was based on an original story – Wagner wrote the libretto himself – and the only one which he set in an actual historical time and place (as opposed to a mythical or legendary setting). The premiere – conducted by Hans von Bülow – took place on June 21, 1868, at the Königliches Hof- und National-Theater in Munich, now home to the Bavarian State Opera.
The opera revolves around a guild of Master Singers – an actual association of amateur poets and musicians in Nuremberg – who were often master craftsmen as well, and whose music-making was dictated by a complicated system of rules for composing and performing their songs. One of the main characters in the opera, Hans Sachs, is based on a person of the same name, a cobbler who lived between 1494 and 1576, and was the most famous of the historical Master Singers.
Wagner’s opera, originally set in 16th century Nuremberg, tells of a young knight, Walther, who is smitten by Eva, the daughter of a goldsmith and meistersinger who has agreed to give her hand in marriage to the winner of the next Meistersinger contest. Walther’s main rival is Sixtus Beckmesser, who also hopes to win Eva’s hand, but through the efforts of Eva’s maid, Magdalena, Hans Sachs agrees to help Walther, despite the fact that he, too, is in love with Eva, although he accepts that he’s too old for her. The intricacies of the plot are many and varied, but eventually they unravel, leading to the happy ending, though tinged with sadness, that (almost) everyone wants.
David McVicar has has brought his production forward to the early 19th century. Regarded as one of today’s foremost opera directors, he has staged productions for some of the world’s major companies, amongst them the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, English National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival, the Mariinsky Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Théâtre Champs-Elysées, the Grand Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Salzburg Festival, and Opéra national du Rhin in Strasbourg. His first production for San Francisco Opera was Don Giovanni in 2007, followed by Il Trovatore in 2009, and last summer he staged the Company’s magnificent performance of Les Troyens.
Sir David is a recipient of the 2011 Grand Prix de la Musique du Syndicat de la Critique for his Strasbourg production of the Ring cycle, he received a knighthood in 2012, and he is also a Chevalier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres.
Conductor Sir Mark Elder makes his first appearance with San Francisco Opera in this production. Sir Mark is music director of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, a principal artist of the British period instrument Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and Opera Rara – a recording company which promotes performances of rare and/or forgotten operas by bel canto era composers, and French composers from the 1830s onward.
Maestro Elder is a former music director of English National Opera – he received an Olivier Award in 1991 for his achievements with the Company – and has been principal guest conductor of the City of Birmingham and BBC symphony orchestras, and of the London Mozart Players. A regular performer at the BBC Proms for many years, he also appears frequently in the major opera houses of the world. Sir Mark was awarded a CBE in 1989, and a knighthood in 2008.
British baritone James Rutherford has won wide acclaim for his interpretation of leading Wagnerian roles since winning the inaugural Seattle Opera International Wagner Competition in 2006. He made his debut with San Francisco Opera as Wolfram von Eschenbach in Tannhäuser in 2007, and has sung the role of Hans Sachs for the Bayreuth Festival, Vienna State Opera, Hamburg Opera, Cologne Opera, Budapest Wagner Festival, and in David McVicar’s Glyndebourne production. He has also sung Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde for Washington National Opera, and the title role in Der fliegende Holländer with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Andris Nelsons.
Brandon Jovanovich returns to San Francisco Opera for this production of Die Meistersinger, making his role debut as Walther von Stolzing. He previously appeared for the Company in the 2011 Ring cycle, in Lohengrin and in Susannah in 2014. This season, he says, he’s preparing to sing “some of the most beautiful, challenging and utterly rewarding music available”. He appears in Meistersinger again in Paris – making his house debut with Opéra National de Paris – and in a role debut as Hermann in a Robert Carsen production of Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame in Zurich. In a return to Bavarian State Opera, Mr Jovanovich sings the role of Chevalier des Grieux in Manon Lescaut, and Don José in Carmen, with which he’ll conclude his season in a company debut for Opera Australia.
Rachel Willis-Sørensen celebrates a double-debut in this production – her first performance with San Francisco Opera, and her first appearance as Eva. Other recent debuts include the role of the Countess D’Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro at both the Metropolitan Opera and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 2014 – which was also the year in which Ms Willis-Sørensen won a Richard Tucker Career Grant, and three prizes at the Placido Domingo Operalia competition in Los Angeles – the Birgit Nilsson Prize, the Zarzuela Prize, and the prize for best female singer. Forthcoming appearances this season include Elsa in Lohengrin for Deutsche Oper Berlin, a return to the Met as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni for Vienna State Opera, as well as concert performances with Myung-Whun Chung and the Dresden Staatskapelle, and with Sir Mark Elder and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at London’s South Bank Centre.
San Franciso Opera’s production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, sung in German with English supertitles, opens at the War Memorial Opera House this evening, November 18, and runs for six performances until December 6. For tickets and more information, visit sfopera.com or call (415) 864-3330.
San Francisco Opera