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Die Meistersinger

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Master Singers of Nuremberg) is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner. Text by the composer. First performance, Munich, 1868.

Table of contents

Plot

Place, Nuremberg.
Time, the 16th century.

ACT I.

The interior of St. Catharine’s Church. Walther von Stolzing, a young knight, sees Eva in the church and asks her whether she is already a bride. Eva takes a fancy to the knight, and her nurse, Magdalena, explains that Eva’s father, the goldsmith and master singer Veit Pogner, will give her hand in marriage to the victor at the prize singing on St. John’s day. Magdalena induces her lover, the apprentice David, to instruct the knight what steps he must take in order to participate in the singing. David, who has come to that part of the church with the other apprentices to take part in the free singing (Freeing), in his inexperience gives the knight some very curious and conflicting advice. But love triumphs, and notwith­standing these strange instructions Walther makes application to the assembled mastersingers to take part in the competition. Pogner announces his intention as to Eva to the assembled singers. He pays no heed to the advice of Sachs to give the people a voice in the matter, but leaves the decisions to the guild. Pogner designates Walther von Stolzing as one of the wooers of Eva, which displeases Beckmesser, the “writer,” and Wächter, the “marker,” who are rivals for her hand. Upon being questioned as to his teachers, the knight mentions the Minnesinger, Walther von der Vogelweide as his instructor in poetry and the birds of the woods as his teachers in singing. As the masters agree to admit Walther, Pogner takes his station behind a curtain, and Walther begins his song. Beckmesser maliciously notes one error after another, so that the decision of the guild is: “Badly sung and spoken.”

ACT II

Street between Pogner’s house and the corner house, in which Hans Sachs has his workshop. Magdalena is informed by David of Walther’s failure, and in her disappointment forgets her usual custom of sharing the contents of her basket with David, which arouses the derision of the apprentices. Pogner arrives with Eva, but the latter is afraid to inquire for Walther. Hans Sachs, upon whom Walther’s song has made a deep impression, takes a seat with his tools before the door of his house to work in the pleasant evening upon a pair of shoes for Beckmesser. Eva, who has always been his pet, questions him, and he adroitly ascertains that she loves the knight. When Walther appears she impulsively rushes toward him, and after some talk promises to fly with him immediately. As they are about to leave, Hans Sachs, apparently without design, illumines the street with his lantern and defeats their purpose. The loving couple retreat to the shadow of Pogner’s house just as Beckmesser appears with a lute to serenade Eva. Sachs interrupts Beckmesser by his loud hammering and finally agrees to allow the writer to sing, while he himself marks each error by a thump upon the shoe. Beckmesser begins, but makes so many errors that from the repeated knocks Sachs finishes the shoe. The neighbours are attracted by the noise; David appears with a stick and belabours Beckmesser, whom he takes for a rival for the favour of Magdalena. The other apprentices take advantage of the opportunity to inaugurate a general scrimmage. In the confusion Walther endeavours to escape with Eva, but Sachs, discovering them, drags Walther into his workshop, while Eva runs to her home. Quiet is restored, the street is empty, the moon rises, and the night watchman, who is supposed to keep order, but who has been sound asleep during the disturbance, calls out the hour in a droning voice.

ACT III

A room in the house of Sachs. The master sits studying in his arm-chair. He is in good humor and forgives the repentant David for having started the disturbance on the street. David congratulates the master upon his saint’s day (Johannes). Walther, who has spent the night with Sachs, relates an agreeable dream, and upon Sachs’s suggestion frames it in verse, in order to produce a new prize song. Walther sings two bars of his song, and Sachs, satisfied, writes them down. The knight departs to compose another bar and to dress for the festival. Beckmesser, thoroughly beaten, finds the two verses in the hand-writing of Sachs and places them in his pocket. He shows them to the master as an evidence of his pretensions to the hand of Eva, and Sachs allows him to carry off the incomplete song. Eva arrives with the excuse of an order for a pair of shoes, and when Walther, finely attired, sees her, he improvises the third verse of his song. The enchanted Sachs calls Magdalena and David, boxes the apprentice’s ears in his joy, thereby advancing him to journeyman and names the prize song “The lay of morning’s dream.” Change of scene: The feast of St. John in the meadow near Pegnitz. Procession of the guilds, young girls from Fuurth and entrance of the mastersingers. Hans Sachs is applauded by the people, who love him; he thanks them, and the singing begins. The apprentices improvise a stage of sod for the singers and Beckmesser begins by singing the two verses of Walther’s song, but so clumsily that he is well laughed at. When he angrily points out Hans Sachs as the author of the composition the latter denies it and asks Walther to sing. Walther ascends the sod platform and sings the prize song amid general en­thusiasm. The mastersingers wish to make him a member of their guild on the spot, but he courteously declines the honour, saying that he is entirely satisfied with the hand of Eva. Sachs closes the contest by praising German poetry and song. “Do not despise the masters,” he wisely advises, to which the people give ready assent.


References and external links: Plot taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.



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