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Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, except, perhaps, at the Met. Take the case of Die Meistersinger.
New York first saw Wagner’s sprawling human-comedy in 1886. Three different productions bearing similar flavours of mock-realism followed until 1962, when lavish standards were set by the director Nathaniel Merrill and designer Robert O’Hearn. Their monumental creation gave way 14 years ago to a similar, equally picturesque diversion devised by good old Otto Schenk of Vienna amid décors by Günther Schneider-Siemssen. And here it was again on Thursday, with every pretty leaf and every cute cobblestone in place. (Peter McClintock currently enforces the hand-me-down concept.) Conservatives were ecstatic. Radicals could at least enjoy some glorious music-making.
The chief source of glory was James Levine, who conducted with unfailing breadth, gentle propulsion and telling sensitivity. Johan Botha, the South African tenorissimo cast as the knightly Stolzing, looked like an overstuffed teddy bear but acted conscientiously and sang like a god. Hans Joachim Ketelsen served the fussy bluster of Beckmesser with a bona fide Heldenbariton (massive top tones) and with wit that stopped safely short of caricature. Unlike many an overstretched comprimario, Matthew Polenzani ennobled the sprightly attitudes and platitudes of David with a lovely bel canto tenor.
The other principals turned out to be less consistent. James Morris, who still conveys the casual charm of an all-American quarterback as Hans Sachs, is more cobbler than poet, and – pardon the mixed metaphor – he growls more than he purrs. Still, at 60, he sustained this unreasonable endurance contest with extraordinary fervour, stamina and dignity. Evgeny Nikitin introduced an incongruously youthful, dauntlessly resonant Pogner who apparently had strolled in from Murmansk. Hei-Kyung Hong made Eva a persuasively sweet and passionate if small-scaled ingenue. Enlightened cameos came from Maria Zifchak, a feisty Magdalene, John Del Carlo, a brash Kothner, and John Relyea, a booming Night Watchman. Despite passing blemishes, this was a masterly Meistersinger. ★★★★☆ Tel +1 212 362 6000