Well, the Cincinnati Opera really knows how to throw a party! In honor of their 90's anniversary they began their summer season with a magnificent production of Wagner's "Die Meistersinger." And I must say that this performance will be added to my short list of the finest live operatic performances I have had the opportunity to attend. Everything about this production was sensational. The singing - the orchestra - the chorus - the acting - the set... absolutely everything. The time flew by and never once did I feel a temptation to look at my watch. I was captivated the entire time.
This production had been plagued by several problems early on. James Levine was scheduled to conduct (this is his hometown after all). But unfortunately Mr. Levine has had some health issues which has sadly caused him to withdraw not only from this production but he did not conduct at the Met for the last part of last season (all the best for a speedy recovery!) He was replaced by John Keenan, who I actually have worked with at Sugar Creek a few years ago. He did a brilliant job. The opera was paced very well and the orchestra was sensational - it is the Cincinnati Symphony after all, but even so. Everyone did a great job but I want to give a shout out especially to the tuba player for playing that great tuba part with style flair and musicality = BRAVO!!!
This is one of the few performances I have attended recently where the audience seemed actually to want to be there and were attentive, polite and supportive of the performers. No excessive noise, no talking throughout the show. The young lovers in front of us had big heads - but they seemed as engaged as the rest of us. The lovely lady who sat next to us told us that once Jimmy Levine had canceled several singers - especially for the Gala (which I did not attend) - had also canceled. She was upset and felt that it was pretty reprehensible for these singers to pull out and leave the company holding the bag just because Jimmy was not going to be there. Now, I have no way of knowing who she is talking about or if this is actually true. But I will say that IF it is true that some singers pulled out ONLY because Jimmy was not going to conduct then I agree with her. How unprofessional and selfish! But the info I received on the cast changes for Meistersinger indicated that the cause of the changes were health and personal issues and I am content to accept that explanation.
The cast was stellar: James Johnson sang Hans Sachs and he was fantastic. Why is he not singing at the Met. He was a captivating actor and he sang beautifully. This role is not a walk in the park, but never once did we sense any fatigue. Twyla Robinson sang Eva and she was so good I almost believed she was an adolescent girl - her acting was great, and what a beautiful voice. I have been a fan of Maria Zifchak ever since I saw her perform Suzuki in "Butterfly" in the Met HD broadcast. She was wonderful. John Horton Murry was a fine Walther as well. If I continued like this I would have to list then entire cast. There was not a weak link among them. From Sachs the Night Watchman the cast was superb. I need to mention two others though who just about stole the show: Norbert Ernst as David and Hans-Joachim Ketelsen as Beckmesser. They were both terrific.
The sets were from Dresden - Cincinnati now owns them and I guess will rent the production out. It was a traditional production and the sets were glorious as were the costumes. I loved the staging. Here are a couple of my favorite moments: the girls flirting in church, Beckmesser the marker in Act I; the Beckmesser serenade along with the riot which clears off just as the Watchman enters was very well done and the image of poor Beckmesser dragging his broken Lute down the street as the curtain comes down on Act II was really great. The best moment was 2nd scene of Act III. For the interlude they brought down the curtain and sent dancers out to do some mime, then the flower girls came through the audience handing out flowers. When they finally got to the entrance of the Masters they all entered through the audience and in this way the audience was drawn in to be participants as the Master's waved at the crowd. It was stunning!!! And I can't forget the chorus which was supplemented by a split chorus in the upper balcony. What a sound - wonderful!
I have nothing negative to say at all. I loved this performance. Happy Birthday Cincinnati Opera!
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