One can only imagine the scenes backstage at the Staatsoper as this revival of Andrea Moses’s 2015 production of Die Meistersinger (its first appearance at the renovated Unter den Linden) approached. In the run-up, both the scheduled Beckmesser (Johannes Martin Kränzle) and the Pogner (Kwangchul Youn) had to pull out. Then, even later in the day, the Walter (Burkhard Fritz) had to withdraw. It’s testament to the company that the show managed to go on at all. In the event, though, it proved to be a Meistersinger as uplifting and life-enhancing as any I’ve attended.

Wolfgang Koch (Hans Sachs), Klaus Florian Vogt (Walther) and Julia Kleiter (Eva) © Bernd Uhlig
Wolfgang Koch (Hans Sachs), Klaus Florian Vogt (Walther) and Julia Kleiter (Eva)
© Bernd Uhlig

The trio of Meistereinspringer proved outstanding. Klaus Florian Vogt, who amazingly had sung Walther in the first night of Jens-Daniel Herzog’s new Salzburg production just the previous evening, stepped up to sound as fresh as ever as the inspired Junker. His light, boyish timbre might not represent the Heldentenor of one’s dreams, but, with the added advantage of having starred in this production when it was new, he fitted in seamlessly, and sang tirelessly.

Martin Gantner proved an outstanding Beckmesser – strongly sung and nicely acted without resorting to caricature. And while Matti Salminen (stepping up as Pogner) obviously doesn’t sound as fresh as he once did, having the veteran bass only complemented the production’s other old-timer Meistersinger: Graham Clark (Kunz Volgegesang), Siegfried Jerusalem (Balthasar Zorn), Reiner Goldberg (Ulrich Eisslinger), Olaf Bär (Hans Foltz) and – the “veteranest” of the lot – Franz Mazura (b. 1924) as Hans Schwarz.

The Old Masters © Bernd Uhlig
The Old Masters
© Bernd Uhlig

At the other end of the spectrum, young South African tenor Siyabonga Maqungo was a terrific David, the voice beautifully clean and open to match his engaging and sympathetic stage presence. Julia Kleiter sang brightly and – especially in the quintet – beautifully as Eva, but the character suffered in Moses’ production, regularly reaching for her cigarettes to calm her nerves. Wolfgang Koch’s Hans Sachs took a while to warm up and the singer had to marshal his resources towards the end, but also suffered from a production that shows little affection for this most noble and human of Wagner’s characters.

In fact, there’s not a great deal to like about Moses’ production, which recasts the work within the context of German corporate life. The Meistersinger become captains of industry (their logos appearing on a sponsor board for photo ops), the Festwiese a parade of different corporations. Act 1 takes place in a boardroom, a vast symbol (loosely resembling a Mercedes badge) slowly rotating outside the window. For Act 2 we're on a rooftop behind more vast signs, where Sachs tends (I think) a marijuana plant. He later retrieves his cobbler’s kit from a plastic wrapper, while Beckmesser dons medieval garb to do his wooing.

<i>Die Meistersinger</i> at the Staatsoper Berlin © Bernd Uhlig
Die Meistersinger at the Staatsoper Berlin
© Bernd Uhlig

It doesn’t really work, but nor did it do much to detract from the evening’s greatest glory: the playing of the Staatskapelle and the conducting of Daniel Barenboim. He set out his stall early, bringing a bracing energy and spontaneity to a prelude that surged ahead impulsively and joyously. Throughout, the conductor and his orchestra accompanied with the sort of responsiveness and manoeuvrability you’d have thought possible only if he was accompanying on the piano.

The winds were gloriously characterful, the strings silky and bustling with irresistible energy and the brass (especially the horns) regularly flooded the auditorium with a wonderful mellow glow of sound. The chorus – in fabulous full voice – couldn’t always follow the conductor quite as well as their colleagues in the pit, and things almost fell apart towards the close of the “Wach’ auf” chorus. But that was a negligible price to pay for conducting of such broad sweep and inspiration. On a night like this, Barenboim and his band are an unbeatable wonder of the Wagnerian world.

****1