Monday, 3 May 2010

Meistersinger – Act Two – Week Two

David works out some personal issues

Like wonky shopping trolleys there are some phrases I wish I could avoid using. The hackneyed things may get the job done but I hope no one notices me desperately muscling them to suit my needs. One such phrase is To be honest with you. It's not particularly offensive I know, but it usually means I've been too lazy to find a better way into a sentence. So what is that I have to be lazy and honest about today? Libretti. To be honest with you, until I began this series of posts on DMvN I'd only ever paid a cursory interest in them. I would read a libretto as I listened to the opera and once I had a rough idea of what was going on I'd rarely look at it again. Sometimes I feel my laziness has been justified – how many times do I need to read the words Alas! and I love you! ? But on occasions I've known that more was being asked of me by a work, but I would put up with a basic awareness of what was going on and enjoy the music, after all it was the music that attracted me to opera in the first place – should I have to care about every word a character sings? In the case of Wagner I think the answer to this question has to be yes. I'm not claiming that he wrote the best libretti, but due to his slow burning approach to opera you're far better off reading them otherwise you'd lose a character's train of thought – and where Wagner's concerned we're talking Trans Siberian length journeys.

In case you're wondering (argh!! – wonky shopping trolley!!), by reading, I mean reading it without listening to the opera. Yes, without listening. I've been quite shocked how different my experiences of DMvN have been. The read-along-with-Wagi approach was good enough for me until I sat down and read it sans songs. With just the libretto to concentrate on I've begun to see a far more coherent world, I've gained a clearer sense of what's going on (especially in the crowded scenes towards the end of the act) and I've got a better grasp of who the characters are. Or at least I think I have.

You're nodding off now. I'd better get on to the

*****Spoiler warning thingy*****

It seems I've ended up going along the Down with the Kids Guide to Opera approach – so listen up all you…you…you…newer versions of older people, this is what happened Previously on DMvN (slick American female accent for that last part).

At the end of the first act things had taken a turn for the worst for Walther, the hot trotting knight who had a thing for Eva. Laughed off by the Meistersingers he was left with 0.00% hope of becoming son-in-law to Veit Pogner. Only Hans Sachs, shoemaker and Meistersinger, saw anything in him…

Where the first act gave us a who's who of characters, the second act is where the comedic action truly kicks off with all of the characters appearing on stage at one time or another – but the glue at the centre of it all is Hans Sachs, which is quite handy considering that the action takes place outside his pad and that of Veit Pogner. This is pretty much a slapstick / farce act culminating in a good old-fashioned Western style punch up.

Except as this is Wagner things aren't quite as simple as that. Taking a leaf from Mozart's book (don't quote me on this) he gives us characters that on second readings are more complex than they seemed to be at first. Bling Daddy VP doubts his Thou shalt only marry a Meistersinger and no other soul in the whole wide universe commandment to his daughter. Walther, passionate and in love, has begun to resemble an unhinged conspiracy theorist ready to slice and dice anyone who disagrees with him. David has the temperament of a Friday night brawler and would probably ask Are you looking at my girlfriend? in a Smirnoff / Budweiser / Strongbow kind of way. Bekmesser, well – he stays the same, as does Magdalena. It's Hans Sachs and Eva though who bring about the biggest head scratching thanks to another Siegmundish / Sieglindeish moment from Wagner. Shall I say more? Erm…

Moving on quickly… Sachs does come into play as the character around whom the opera revolves, or to put it another way – he begins to shape the opera's direction. He's a bit like a drunken puppeteer, yanking strings here and there clumsily trying to shift Eva and Walther closer together. That he does this knowing he's doing himself no favours makes him more than just a noble character. Noble can be bloody boring. Sachs is fighting against himself to do the right thing, which makes him very fascinating and very human.

By the end of this second act things aren't actually coming up roses for any of the characters, which makes you wonder if the Saxman will get the story to a happy ending. Beckmesser is looking to hire a couple of bodyguards. David is bathing his fists in a river to cool them off because he hasn't got a fridge with frozen peas. Eva is bewailing her fate. Magdalena is…still trying to fix the brakes on Eva's town wagon and Walther is cursing the superglue stuck to his sword that stopped him turning everyone into the Black Knight from Monty Python.

How will it all end? If you've got nothing better to do you can find out next week as I journey into Act III...

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