AApplause, even before a bar of music sounds: the audience demonstratively stands behind Philippe Jordan, music director of the Vienna State Opera, after director Bogdan Roščić two days before the premiere of Richard Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” in an interview with the daily newspaper “Der Standard” announced that he no longer wanted to employ a music director from the 2025/2026 season. This announcement was preceded by a small skirmish at the beginning of October, when Jordan railed against the excesses of the director’s theater in a conversation with the Viennese “Kurier” and announced that he did not want to extend his contract with the Vienna State Opera. Roščić promptly countered and countered in the Austria Press Agency that it was he who had informed Jordan in the summer that his contract would not be extended beyond the end of the 2025 season. However it may have actually happened, Jordan won the audience’s sympathy.
Undeterred by all that is going on, the forty-eight-year-old Swiss conductor firmly grasps the reins, sets brisk tempi in the prelude and thus avoids any hint of pathos, which Wagner was not exactly stingy with in the “Meistersinger”. Instead, Jordan relies on the lucid, comedic tone that the opera undoubtedly contains, and repeatedly encourages the State Opera Orchestra, which plays just as easily as it does precisely, to springy brio, which also brilliantly circumvents the second musical trap of the piece, sentimentality. It is Jordan’s most convincing performance to date at the Vienna State Opera, and he draws on his experience with the opera, which is by no means easy to interpret, and which he also conducted at the Bayreuth Festival in 2017.
In Keith Warner, who made his late debut as a director at the Staatsoper with Wagner’s “Meistersinger”, Jordan has now found a partner whose work he can hardly find objectionable. Its basic idea becomes clear as soon as the curtain rises towards the end of the prelude: in front of a dark, blue-grey background, illuminated in rich blue, Hans Sachs sits alone in the middle of the stage and thinks. The congregation’s choir, which enters St. Catherine’s Church, which is only hinted at through a portal, appears strangely distant due to the gray tones of the historical-looking clothing (costumes: Kaspar Glarner). Only when Eva and Magdalene separate from the crowd does color come into play. It seems the tired Sachs is just imagining the scene. A dream? A faint memory? Warner deliberately leaves it open. In any case, Nuremberg’s shoemaker keeps brooding over reality in order to unfold his imaginary world.
Boris Kudlička designed a very changeable stage design for this, which sometimes appears hermetic, sometimes deconstructed: rotatable elements planked with wood form the stage horizon. At the back there are three floors accessible by a maze of stairs, the walls of which are wallpapered with striking psychedelic patterns. In general, the scenario occasionally turns into a hyper-realistic stage show, most notably in the Festwiesen scene, in which Beckmesser, in a red uniform, pays his respects to Sergeant Pepper. Before that, the stage repeatedly dissolves into abstractions, such as stools, tables and slats from Sachs’ workshop floating high in the loft. The smooth front of the rotating elements is ideally suited as a projection surface on which a starry sky, the contours of a snow-covered mountain landscape or a blossoming tree can be seen.
With this setting of dream and reality, memory and the concrete present, Warner narrates “Die Meistersinger” astonishingly stringently, albeit concentrating on the many perspectives with which Sachs views the events that throw all of Nuremberg off the bourgeois tracks. The inherent artist problem interests the British director rather little – only a pixie with a mighty Nietzsche mustache that appears everywhere is a peripheral reminder of it. More important to Warner is Sachs’ relationship with his deceased wife, with Eva and with Stolzing, to whom he gives a lesson in historical awareness in the finale, when the Junker throws the Meistersinger insignia to the ground with a bang: Only those who draw from the knowledge of the tradition can develop artistically. With book titles from German world literature that show Nuremberg’s citizens Stolzing, Warner also banishes the tiresome Germanism of the libretto.
A brilliant ensemble completes the success of this new production of “Meistersinger”, curiously enough the first at the Vienna State Opera since 1975 (director: Otto Schenk): Michael Volle as the outstanding Hans Sachs not only convinces with perfect voice and declamation technique, but also in terms of acting. It is a great pleasure to follow his interaction with Wolfgang Koch, who as Beckmesser cleverly avoids any caricature of the character up to the final scene. The young couple is cast with light, fresh voices, David Butt Philip as Stolzing, who is sure of his heights, and Hanna-Elisabeth Müller as Eva, whose warmly timbrated soprano unfortunately begins to flicker in exposed heights. The impeccable Meistersinger squad, always dressed in historical costumes, is led by Georg Zeppenfeld as the famous Pogner, the somewhat stupidly costumed apprentices in overalls with painted treble clefs by the subtle Michael Laurenz as David. The State Opera Choir, carefully rehearsed by Thomas Lang, rounds off the evening. Enthusiastic applause from the audience at the end and a veritable shower of flowers for Philippe Jordan.