Leading up to opening night in October 2016, Daniel Barenboim definitively asserted that Wagner’s sole comedy was not a political work.
Not a political opera? That clearly wasn’t the thinking behind Andrea Moses’ new
production, the first for the Staatsoper since Harry Kupfer’s from 1998. And it was far
from coincidental that the premiere was timed to the 25th anniversary of Germany
Unification. Clearly, the Staatsoper wanted to make a statement.
But what that statement might have been was far from apparent, despite – or partially
because of – the proliferation of German flags on stage (the most I’ve ever seen outside of
a soccer match) and various other markers of Germanness, including lederhosen, dirndls, old master paintings and even the Berlin city palace of the Hohenzollerns that is currently (and controversially) being rebuilt on Museum Island. Moses threw all this at the viewer with a slickness and naive glee that was disarming. The production traded generously in clichés, mocking German corporate culture by assigning the Masters executive logos in the swanky boardroom where they met. The punks, beer, marijuana and crazed soccer fans (not to mention the panic-stricken Hassid who scurried across the stage) that collided in the chaotic climax of the second act seemed yet another way to evade the opera’s more serious and often-troubling themes.
Is Meistersinger a masterpiece? Does it contain problematic elements? Yes and yes. Yet
Moses, in her blithe refusal to establish a directorial point of view of the work and its
place in German history, consistently dodged Meistersinger’s most salient motifs: the
representation of an ideal society based on exclusion; what happens when art is harnessed for a nationalistic program; how newness comes into the world through art.
The final act seemed to reveal the core of Moses’ thinking. The raucous yet good-natured festival, lit up by red, black and yellow balloons and attended by Miss Bavaria 2015 and two Arab sheiks (and their bodyguard), seemed to complete the picture of a robust contemporary Germany that has miraculously escaped from the quagmire of history.
14. 18. 21. April 2019