Abbreviating Wagner is a debatable enterprise. Doing it badly is not.
Berkeley Opera's world premiere tonight of "condensed [evaporated?] and
reduced" version of "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" in the Julia Morgan
Theater may be debated elsewhere, but will get an unequivocal NEIN!
The verdict comes from a secular point of view that does not regard
every note in Wagner as sacred and/or indispensable... or even very
good. But the line is drawn at an often hideous orchestral performance,
and the incomprehensible deletion of a few bars of music that are the
heart and soul of the score.
At the end of the second act, after the town riot, comes music that's
among Wagner's most magical passages, perhaps his most humane: the
fighting, the shouting stop suddenly as the watchman passes by, night -
and warm, gorgeous nachtmusik - envelopes the scene, as the full moon
illuminates the now peaceful town. But not in Berkeley. Skipped.
Fighting stops, a line from the watchman, end of act. A possibility:
conductor Jonathan Khuner didn't want to hear that glorious music ruined
by the orchestra, so he "edited it out."
Whatever. It was at this point that I knew Wagner has left the building...
and so did I.
This version - by Yuval Sharon (stage director), Khuner and Bryan Higgins
(horn) - cuts the work almost in half, running three hours that includes
two fairly lengthy intermissions.
During the overture, the 15-member chorus (which later is split between
the masters and seven girls who act as the apprentice boys, and turn
in an outstanding performance), "board a plane" and after much monkey
business arrive in Nurnberg. They turn their chairs around, and become
the church worshippers of the opening scene. So far so good, but what
happens during this time in the orchestra pit is the most convincing
argument against the production. It's 12-tone Wagner, concertmaster
Charles Montague and second chair Candace Sanderson playing the original
score, but the 13 other musicians not.
Throughout the evening, orchestral bloopers, miscues, flat notes (and
sharp ones) abound, making one nostalgic for Berkeley Opera's "Ring
Legend" last year when the orchestra was on a much better behavior.
Staging is loopy all the way through, with two large street maps that
make no sense, projected images I stopped watching when the horses arrived
to illustrate something resolutely non-equine Sachs was singing about.
Kristel Baldoz, a very attractive dancer in a white shroud, leaps about
Hans Sachs at times, signifying... something.
Without the dancer, with a two-piano version, this could have been
a fairly decent concert performance: Clayton Brainerd's Hans Sachs
was respectable; John Minagro's Pogner impressive; Benjamin Bongers'
effortful Walther was often on the mark; Stephen Rumph's David lively;
Jillian Khuner's Eva appealing, and Donna Olson's Magdalena crisp and
audible. William Amory's Beckmesser could be heard at times just over
the full text supplied by a prompter.
This fan of brave and often successful Berkeley Opera wishes they'd stick
with something simple, like the "Ring."
[log in to unmask]