Opera Scotland

Mastersingers of Nuremberg 1894Royal Italian Opera Company

Read more about the opera Meistersinger von Nürnberg

If it seems strange that the first performance in Scotland of Wagner's great comedy should be given by a London management with their singers performing in Italian (I maestricantori di Norimbergo), then at least the Italian members of that company were among the leading singers of the day.

The Irish tenor Joseph O'Mara was at the start of a lengthy career as one of the leading dramatic tenors on the British stage.  He had studied in Italy, so was probably quite happy singing this translation.

 

An Edinburgh Critic

Scotsman: 17 September 1894

The Royal Opera Company – Orfeo, La Navarraise,  and Die Meistersinger

'Saturday brought to a conclusion the visit of Sir Augustus Harris’s Royal Opera Company to Edinburgh. In the afternoon Gluck’s Orfeo and Massenet’s La Navarraise were presented, the latter for the first time in Edinburgh. The evening was devoted to Wagner’s Mastersingers of Nuremberg, which had never before been produced in this country outside of London.

'Such a programme was certainly calculated to strongly attract musical people in the city, especially as the casts included many of the best names in the company. But the experience of the week was destined to repeat itself. It is true the audiences were slightly larger than those attending the previous performances, and for The Mastersingers the Lyceum Theatre was fairly well filled. But there were still far too many vacant seats, and it is matter for regret that the visit of the company has not commanded the success which, both by reason of its singers and of the works performed, it deserved. The public indifference can scarcely be explained by the season of the visit, for just a year ago the same company attracted very large audiences.

'Wagner’s Mastersingers, which was produced at the evening performance amidst demonstrations of unbounded enthusiasm, is one of those works which, under the existing conditions of opera in this country, must always be difficult of performance in the provinces. For that reason it is all the more regrettable that the theatre was not full to the doors. It was one of Wagner’s misfortunes that in his superabundant vitality and enthusiasm he conceived everything on a scale almost too grand for realisation. For the adequate performance of The Mastersingers are demanded vocalists, orchestra, and stage accessories of quite exceptional character. Otherwise it must fail of success.

'That the work was received with remarkable enthusiasm on Saturday night by an audience which in great part was probably unacquainted with more than the general drift of the story, is the best testimony that could be afforded of the quality of the performance. It was by no means a perfect performance. The voice of the prompter was heard in the land with a distracting pertinacity, while the conductor, Mr Seppilli, did not better matters by tramping his feet and slashing his score with the baton in his anxiety to keep his forces under orderly control. These disturbing elements, however, lay outside the actual performance.

'The orchestra gave a most meritorious rendering to the intricate and elaborate instrumentation, while it does not require much musical perspicacity to perceive that beneath the broad humour of the tale Wagner is pointing a musical moral. Ostensibly we have presented to us Hans Sachs, the cobbler, and the other Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ordering and arranging a great contest of song – a tragic counterpart is found in the second act of Tannhäuser – in which Beckmesser, a learned Mastersinger, is beaten on his own ground by the young knight Walter, who is inspired by love alone, and whose singing appeals so strongly to the multitude that he is awarded the prize – the hand of his beloved Eva, daughter of the rich and powerful Pogner.

'In reality, we have here an illustration of the eternal struggle between the true and free art of the “Minnesang” and the pedantic cut-and-dry formalism of the “Meistersang”, and the struggle ends, as it always ends when the verdict is left to the people, in the triumph of nature over artificiality.

'In the frustration of the efforts of the pedant Beckmesser and the success of the love-inspired Walter, Wagner was really thinking of his own life work, which, by the time the opera was produced (June 1869), had produced a powerful impression on contemporary thought. The composer was in his happiest mood. The dream of a national theatre was already on the eve of accomplishment, Bayreuth was in sight, and the aims of his strenuous life seemed at last capable of realisation.

'Nor was Wagner’s under-purpose in writing The Mastersingers confined to a desire to poke fun at his adversaries. He desired earnestly to emphasise the fact that at one time there had existed a genuine national art in Germany, and as the aim of his life was to establish a living national drama which should not be a slavish imitation of French modes and manners, the subject of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, like that of the song contests of the Thuringian Knights in Tannhäuser, profoundly interested him.

'If ever there was a musical Chauvinist it was Wagner. Since the days when Paris declined to accept his Rienzi and left him to starve, he hated France and all that France had taught Germany. He saw that in things artistic France had rescued the Fatherland from barbarism, and taught her all she knew. His absorbing life work was to build up a new German theatre upon a genuine national basis, and free from the contamination of French artificiality. In his own particular lines he succeeded. But he left behind him no one to carry on his work He took German people too seriously.

'At the present moment Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Mascagni’s Cavalleria command crowded houses in the Fatherland. No one will ever attempt to write another comic opera on the lines of The Mastersingers. It is too great an effort, and only a composer of supreme genius could essay it with any hope of success. The score probably contains a greater abundance of good stuff than any other opera which Wagner penned. The leit-motiven are numerous, and are woven and interwoven into the orchestral parts in the most marvellous fashion, producing an impression of full-bodied melodic richness that latter-day masters of instrumentation, with all the advantage of Wagner’s example, seldom realise.

'Among the performers, Signor Pini-Corsi, as the pedantic Master Beckmesser, carried off first honours. He is a genuine comedian, and threw himself with great zest into the humours of the part. In gesture he maintains the best traditions of Italian buffo artists. His voice is powerful and of admirable quality and, judged by his whole performance, his was the figure on the stage which most interested the audience. The Hans Sachs of M Dufriche was perhaps a trifle lacking in geniality; vocally it was admirable. Mlle Gherslen as Eva sang with greater fullness and sweetness than on Monday evening, and if we pass by a certain lack of animation, she may be said to have given a thoroughly sound rendering of the part.

'Mr Joseph O’Mara was unfortunate in being for a second time cast for a part which was just above his strength. Up to a certain limit he is a tenor of excellent qualities. He sings with sweetness, and is always in tune. But he fails, both in singing and in gesture to display the force necessary for the satisfactory realisation of such a part as Walter. Nevertheless he rendered the immortal prize song with abundant passion and finish of style, and received a warm tribute of applause from the audience. It remains to mention the Magdalena of Mlle Bauermeister, the David of Signor Rossetti, and the Pogner of Signor Arimondi, whose names are in themselves sufficient guarantee for the adequacy of the impersonations.

'The company journeyed to Glasgow yesterday, where they begin a six days’ engagement to-night with Verdi’s Falstaff.'

Performance Cast

Walther von Stolzing a young knight

Joseph O'Mara (Sep 15 e)

Eva daughter of Pogner

Francine Gherlsen (Sep 15 e)

Magdalene Eva's nurse

Mathilde Bauermeister (Sep 15 e)

David apprentice to Sachs

Paolo Pellagalli-Rossetti (Sep 15 e)

Hans Sachs a shoemaker

Eugène Dufriche (Sep 15 e)

Veit Pogner a goldsmith

Vittorio Arimondi (Sep 15 e)

Sixtus Beckmesser town clerk

Antonio Pini-Corsi (Sep 15 e)

Production Cast

Conductor

Armondo Seppilli (Sep 15 e)

Translator

Giovanni Andrea Mazzucato (Italian)

Performance DatesMastersingers of Nuremberg 1894

Map List

Royal Lyceum Theatre | Edinburgh

15 Sep, 19.00

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