Is Stefan Herheim’s “Meistersinger” New York-bound?



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The AP’s Mike Silverman reported yesterday that Peter Gelb is bringing Stefan Herheim’s new Salzburg Meistersinger to the ultra-conservative Met. Personally, I can’t think of a better choice of director to bring contemporary European Regietheater sensibilities to the New World. Herheim is one of a handful of Regie directors working today who show real intelligence, flair and excitement when it comes to reinterpreting the repertory classics. Let’s hope that New York embraces his unique aesthetic that combines overt meta-theatrical touches with a rigid analytical approach and a winning sense of humor. Herheim’s brilliant reimaginings of Wagner have won him particular accolades; his 2008 Parsifal was the highpoint of the Bayreuth Festival, his Berlin Staatsoper Lohengrin the following year was another triumph.  (The pictures I’ve included are from Meistersinger, which opened over the weekend to excellent reviews! )

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See the AP’s profile of Herheim below:

Stefan  Herheim:  Opera  director  as  ‘renewer’

by  MIKE  SILVERMAN  |  Associated  Press  –  Sun,  Aug  4,  2013  5:46  AM  EDT

SALZBURG,  Austria  (AP)  —  Stefan  Herheim  started  directing  operas  at  age  6,  moving  puppets  around  a  tiny  stage  to recordings  of  his  favorite  works.  No  surprise  then  that  the  man  known  today  for  the  intellectual  rigor  of  his  productions  also infuses  them  with  a  sense  of  childlike  wonder.

Herheim’s  father  played  viola  in  the  Norwegian  National  Opera  in  Oslo,  and  as  a  youngster  he  often  attended  performances and  then  re-­enacted  what  he  had  seen.

“It  was  my  need  to  be  God  and  have  my  own  opera  house  and  conquer  this  world  of  my  own,”  Herheim  said  in  an  interview  a day  before  his  latest  production  —  Wagner’s  “Die  Meistersinger  von  Nuernberg”  —  opened  at  the  Salzburg  Festival  on  Friday night.  (It  plays  five  more  times  through  Aug.  27.)

Conquer  this  world  he  has,  at  the  age  of  43,  and  though  he  doesn’t  have  his  own  opera  house,  he  works  regularly  at  Europe’s best.

And  now  he’s  coming  to  the  U.S.  as  well:  Peter  Gelb,  who  runs  the  Metropolitan  Opera,  was  in  the  audience  for  the “Meistersinger”  opening  and  afterward  made  preliminary  arrangements  to  bring  it  to  the  Met  in  a  future  season.

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Herheim  got  his  musical  training  playing  cello,  then  spent  time  as  a  production  assistant  at  the  Oslo  opera  and  even  ran  a touring  marionette  troupe.  In  his  20s,  he  moved  to  Hamburg,  Germany,  to  study  opera  production  with  the  legendary  Goetz Friedrich.

Kasper  Holten,  head  of  London’s  Royal  Opera  where  Herheim  will  debut  this  fall  directing  Verdi’s  “Les  vepres  de  siciliennes,” calls  him  “maybe  the  most  gifted  younger  director  of  opera  in  the  world.”

He  said  Herheim’s  productions  are  unusual  for  their  “real  analysis  into  why  did  the  piece  end  up  being  like  it  was  …  why  the composer  wrote  the  piece  at  this  time  and  for  this  location.”

This  might  sound  awfully  academic  and  a  recipe  for  dull  viewing,  but  Holten  said,  during  an  interview  earlier  this  summer, “with  Stefan,  it’s  spectacular,  it’s  always  very  beautiful  to  look  at,  it’s  funny,  there’s  an  abundance  of  creativity.”

And  puppetry  still  makes  appearances  in  Herheim  stagings:  His  2009  production  of  Wagner’s  “Lohengrin”  for  Berlin’s Staatsoper  included  a  pantomime  during  the  Act  1  prelude  with  a  marionette  version  of  Wagner  himself  conducting  and  then ascending  toward  heaven.

Another  composer  Herheim  has  put  on  stage  is  Puccini,  who  makes  a  silent  appearance  in  his  “Manon  Lescaut”  for Semperoper  Dresden  earlier  this  year.  In  staging  Puccini’s  “La  Boheme”  for  Oslo  last  year,  he  stripped  away  the sentimentality  by  having  Mimi  die  at  the  beginning  rather  than  the  end.

Perhaps  his  most  acclaimed  production  to  date  is  “Parsifal,”  first  seen  at  the  Wagner  shrine  of  Bayreuth,  Germany,  in  2008. Setting  the  action  inside  Wagner’s  own  home,  Herheim  interweaves  Parsifal’s  growth  from  birth  to  adulthood  with  the history  of  Germany  and  the  Bayreuth  Festival  itself  from  Wagner’s  day  through  World  War  II.

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The  “abundance  of  creativity”  that  Holten  praises  is  certainly  on  display  in  his  “Meistersinger,”  a  breathtakingly  imaginative, frequently  hilarious  and  often  moving  interpretation  of  Wagner’s  beloved  comedy.

Herheim  sees  strong  parallels  between  Wagner  and  the  opera’s  hero,  the  shoemaker  and  poet  Hans  Sachs,  who  actually  lived in  16th  century  Nuernberg.  For  one  thing,  Wagner  wrote  the  opera  in  the  years  following  his  infatuation  (possibly unrequited)  with  the  married  Mathilde  Wesendonck;;  in  the  opera,  Sachs,  a  middle-­aged  widower,  renounces  his  love  for  the beautiful  Eva  so  she  can  marry  her  younger  suitor.

Herheim  sets  the  entire  opera  inside  Sachs’  workshop,  but  furnishes  it  with  items  from  Wagner’s  own  era.  “This  piece  haseverything  to  do  with  the  first  half  of  the  19th  century  and  very  little  to  do  with  the  German  Renaissance,”  Herheim  said. “Wagner’s  ideal  picture  of  the  romantic  city  of  old  Nuernberg  never  existed  the  way  he  tells  it.”

The  curtain  is  already  up  when  the  audience  enters  the  auditorium  of  the  Grosses  Festspielhaus,  and  Sach’s  workshop  is spread  out  in  loving  detail  across  the  wide  stage.  Even  before  the  first  notes  of  the  prelude  strike  up,  Sachs  (or  is  it  Wagner?) rushes  in  from  his  bedroom  dressed  in  his  nightclothes,  hurries  to  his  desk  at  stage  right  and  begins  furiously  writing, perhaps  completing  the  opera  we  are  about  to  hear.

Then,  as  the  prelude  melts  into  the  first  act,  Herheim  and  his  production  team  engineer  a  feat  of  stage  magic:  Through  a gauzy  curtain,  we  see  the  desk  become  bigger  and  bigger  until  it  takes  over  the  entire  stage  and  turns  into  the  interior  of  St. Katherine’s  Church.  A  similar  transformation  occurs  at  the  beginning  of  Act  2,  when  two  cabinets  and  a  doorway  leading into  Sachs’s  storeroom  swell  into  a  Nuernberg  street  scene.

There’s  puppetry  here,  too,  in  the  form  of  a  miniature  theater  that  Sachs  keeps  among  the  old  toys  his  children  once  played with.  And  there  are  even  fairy-­tale  characters:  Snow  White  and  the  Seven  Dwarfs  and  other  figures  come  tumbling  out  of  a giant  volume  of  the  Brothers  Grimm’s  collected  tales  and  help  trigger  the  street  brawl  that  closes  Act  2.

Herheim  said  a  particular  challenge  was  the  “problem”  of  Beckmesser,  the  fussy  town  clerk  who  competes  for  Eva’s  hand  and ends  up  humiliated  in  front  of  the  whole  town.

“Wagner  totally  betrayed  him  from  the  very  beginning,”  Herheim  said,  “gave  him  no  chance,  made  a  fool  out  of  him  and hunts  him  down  as  the  idiot  who  has  to  be  sacrificed  so  that  Hans  Sachs  can  bloom  in  his  enlightenment.”

Noting  that  Sachs  “has  his  manipulative  side,”  Herheim  portrays  the  two  men  as  alter  egos.  “Beckmesser  is  the  other  side  of Hans  Sachs,  everything  he  suppresses,”  he  said.

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To  underscore  this,  in  their  Act  3  scene  together,  Herheim  has  Sachs  silently  mouth  Beckmesser’s  lines  before  the  latter  sings them.  And  just  before  the  final  curtain,  that  figure  in  the  nightclothes  reappears  —  but  this  time  it’s  Beckmesser,  not  Sachs.

For  the  future,  Herheim  said  he  is  eager  to  tackle  the  operas  of  Czech  composer  Leos  Janacek  and  also  would  like  to  direct new  works,  which  he  feels  get  too  little  attention  these  days.

“In  our  time  we  play  the  same  repertoire  over  and  over  and  over  again,”  he  said.  “People  don’t  seem  interested  in  getting  their own  time  reflected  by  living  artists,  and  this  of  course  changes  totally  the  role  of  the  director.

“We  become  the  renewers,”  he  said,  “we  have  to  take  the  standard  repertoire  and  put  it  in  a  frame  where  it  makes  sense  to  see ourselves  mirrored  and  questioned.”

Despite  this  sense  of  mission,  Herheim  insists  he  doesn’t  seem  himself  “as  a  teacher,  coming  and  giving  a  lesson.”  Instead,  he said,  his  goal  is  to  communicate  what  opera  has  meant  in  his  life.

“I  have  myself  had  experiences  with  music  in  the  opera  house,  which  is  my  temple,  which  gives  me  the  joy  of  life  and  moves me  so  strongly,  it  feels  like  a  gift  from  heaven,”  he  said.  “And  I  feel  so  in  debt  toward  the  medium  that  I’m  eager  to  give people  the  same  experience.”

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