Premiere performances: 26 and 29 November 2020 at the State Opera
The grandeur, sublimity and lustre of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, whose protagonists mull over art and life, celebrate humanity and honour cultural traditions, may well have been the main reason why the opera was performed at the gala opening of the New German Theatre (today’s State Opera) in Prague on 5 January 1888.
The mastersingers were members of guilds associating amateur poets and musicians, who gathered together every year at a contest for the best song. There was indeed a guild of master craftsmen in 16th-century Nuremberg, and also the cobbler, poet and playwright Hans Sachs, an esteemed and popular author of more than 6,000 works.
The historical figure served as the basis for one of the opera’s lead characters, a representative of an institution that must be respected, yet needs to be reformed. Owing to Sachs’s help, the young knight Walther von Stolzing wins the competition and duly gains the hand of his beloved Eva, the daughter of a mastersinger.
Witty and poignant scenes spice up the remarkable work, one of the two Wagner operas with a happy ending.
The premiere of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, with the composer present, on 21 June 1868 at the Königliches Hoftheater in Munich, was a resounding success. The Prague audience most recently saw the opera in 1982 and 1983 (in Czech translation), when its production, conducted by Zdeněk Košler and directed by Václav Kašlík, with the sets designed by Josef Svoboda, was in the repertoire of the Estates Theatre. The new adaptation, to be performed at the State Opera, will be created by an international team: the German conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens, who currently serves as the music director of the State Opera; the British stage director Keith Warner, who in 2016 prepared the State Opera production of Strauss’s Elektra; and the Slovak set designer Boris Kudlička, who has frequently collaborated with the State Opera and the National Theatre Opera.
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