Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Prelude to the Third Act

Earlier in the month, we explored Walther’s Prize Song from the end of the third act of Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Here, at the comic love story’s dramatic climax, Walther is declared the winner of the singing contest, a triumph which ensures his marriage to Eva. Harmonically, it is a moment which brings us “home” by reaffirming the preeminence of C major, the long-lost key of the mighty Prelude to Act I. Rewind …

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Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger”: Walther’s Prize Song from the Third Act

Richard Wagner’s 1868 opera, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, is a comic love story, set in sixteenth century Nuremberg. The historical Meistersinger (Master Singers) were a guild of amateur poets and musicians who were primarily middle class master craftsmen of various trades. The guild’s Tabulatur, or law-book, established an intricate system of rules which dictated the structure and performance of songs. In the opening scene of Wagner’s opera, Walther, a knight who has just arrived in …

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Wagner’s “Rienzi” Overture: A Glorious Remnant of Youthful Indiscretion

In his later years, Richard Wagner dismissed his five-act opera, Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes, as a “youthful sin.” Completed in 1840 when the composer was 27 years old, Rienzi stands in stark contrast with Wagner’s mature work. It was elaborately conceived as Grand Opera in the tradition of Meyerbeer. Wagner’s megalomaniacal intention was “to outdo all previous examples with sumptuous extravagance.” The premiere in Dresden on October 20, 1842 lasted over six hours with breaks …

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Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” Prelude to Act I: A Shifting Kaleidoscope of Color

Richard Wagner’s 1850 opera, Lohengrin, is based on medieval German legend. The fairy tale story involves the distressed Elsa (unfairly accused of murdering her brother, the rightful heir to the kingdom) and Lohengrin, a disguised Knight of the Holy Grail who comes to her aid on a boat drawn by a swan. Wagner’s Prelude to the first act of Lohengrin is a dreamlike kaleidoscope of orchestral color. It begins in the highest register of the …

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Norman Bailey Sings Wagner

Norman Bailey, the internationally renowned British operatic bass-baritone, passed away on September 15 at the age of 88. Bailey made his debut in 1959 at the Vienna Chamber Opera, performing the role of Tobias Mill in Rossini’s one-act opera, La cambiale di matrimonio. His association with the Sadler’s Wells Theatre (later the English National Opera) beginning in 1967, launched a major career. He was particularly associated with the operas of Wagner, including the title role …

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Remembering Christa Ludwig

Christa Ludwig, the German dramatic mezzo-soprano, has passed away. She was 93. Ludwig was one of the most significant and distinguished singers of the twentieth century “with a voice of exquisite richness and, when needed—breathtaking amplitude.” (Ted Libbey, NPR) She made her debut in Frankfurt at the age of 18, shortly after the Second World War. Her celebrated roles included Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Kundry in Wagner’s Parsifal, Leonora in Beethoven’s …

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Remembering James Levine

James Levine, the American conductor and pianist, has passed away from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. He was 77. Levine served as music director of the Metropolitan Opera for 40 years from 1976 to 2016. He is widely credited with raising the artistic level and profile of that company. He was also music director of the Ravinia Festival (1973–1993) and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (2004–2011). Levine’s personal and professional reputation will be …

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