And when the people seated next to me were talking about the run time a few minutes before curtain, and one turned to me and asked, “Wait, is this really close to 4 hours?”, and I said “Actually it’s more like 5,” and then I was corrected that it was closer to 6 (with intermissions), well you knew the whole thing would be quite special.
So “Mastersingers” is an opera in three acts, each one the length of a decent movie, or a regular opera. The show begins in a church with like 100 people whom you never see again singing hymns. At the end of the church service, a knight just passing through sees this young girl Eva and falls in love with her (naturally) and she falls in love with him (naturally) and then he approaches her and says hello and what not. Her maid informs the knight that no, the girl isn’t yet engaged, but she’s about to be, because her father is the leader of the Mastersingers guild and has promised his daughter as the prize in the upcoming singing competition. Yeah this is what this opera is about. So the knight, Walther, you're probably not supposed to pronounce the 'h' but I do, has the great idea to audition for the Mastersingers, be invited to join the guild, and then win the competition and be able to marry this young girl he just fell in love with when he saw her from across the room even though her dress is hideous and she wears it the entire show.
Walther goes to the guild meeting, where Eva’s father sings about how great their guild is and how pretty their costumes are. Before he enters, David (Han Sachs’s apprentice (Hans Sachs is the lead role but like is no one important??)) teaches Walther how to sing like a master. In a very confusing lecture, David apparently says that there must be birds, and flowers, but not trees, or some such absolute hilarious nonsense that no one would understand. Walther still tries to audition, with a song about love of course because he’s an expert in that biz now, but is laughed at because he doesn’t know how they do. The town clerk, Beckmesser, is a guild member who reeeeally wants to win the marriage prize and he is really mad that they let Walther audition at all. He makes fun of him a lot. He also is clearly Wagner’s Jewish character, as he’s rich but greedy and cheap and the villain and Wagner wants everyone to hate him, just like he wanted everyone to hate Jews, so it’s obvious. Wagner’s the worst. Beckmesser is like who let this amateur into our club? And Hans Sachs is like hey be nice, why can’t we give this guy a chance? And Beckmesser’s all “Shut up Hans Sachs and go finish making my shoes dammit why you taking so long to make my shoes?” Hans Sachs is a shoemaker p.s.
First intermission. We moved down to better seats. Then we made friends with old people and tried to identify all the famous German notables on the curtain. Oh yeah, the show curtain was a freaking mass of maybe 200 scary white faces, all famous Germans, including Goethe, Marlena Dietrich, prob lots of Nazis.
The beginning of Act Two is probably my favorite part. We open in the alley between Hans Sachs’s shop/house and Eva’s father’s house. David is informing Eva’s maid Magdalena, who is also David’s secretish lover, that Walther failed his Mastersinger audition. Magdalena becomes so upset for Eva’s future that she forgets to give David the food she brought for him, and then everyone in the vicinity makes fun of him before Hans Sachs saves him and ushers him back to the shop. Let’s go over that. The most terribly sad thing Wagner could think of having the maid do in her sadness was to forget to feed her boyfriend. And then the whole town mocks him because he didn’t get food gifts from his girlfriend that night. I’m obsessed.
Then we see Eva and her father talk about the audition. Her father expresses a little bit of doubt about hosting a singing competition as the means of finding his daughter’s husband. Good thinking, man, in that 2-minute span of doubt. He gets over it though, "nahhh whatevs this plan is great, not weird, totally normal for this time period." He goes to sleep while Eva talks to Hans Sachs about Walther. Hans is like ugh he totally messed up even though we tried to teach him, so you’re probably gonna marry Beckmesser, sorry. And Eva’s like oh god dammit Hans, can’t you at least enter the competition? I’d be okay with marrying you. I mean, I love that new guy, what’s his name, Walther, but I’d be happy with you. Hans is like bitch you tripping.
Then Walther, who, remember, is a knight, and probably left a much cooler life wherever he came from, comes by in the middle of the knight and talks to Eva. They’re wondering whether they should elope but then Beckmesser that awful Jew (Wagner’s words) comes by to serenade his future bride. Since Eva is outside cavorting with Walther, her wonderful maid Magdalena pretends to be Eva at her bedroom window. So Beckmesser is singing to Magdalena, thinking it’s Eva, and Hans Sachs is sitting on his front stoop cobbling Beckmesser’s shoes. It’s all a big jumble of activity in the middle of the night because these people have no regard for their neighbors. Beckmesser’s singing, Eva and Walther are trying to be quiet in the shadows, Hans Sachs is cobbling and hammering, and then David comes out of Hans Sachs’s house (they live together?) and sees Beckmesser serenading his girlfriend and so he attacks him. David and Beckmesser start fighting and then THE ENTIRE TOWN JOINS IN THE FIGHT. And then everyone is like left in their underwear! And all those people from the very first scene about 4 hours ago are finally given another part in the show and beat up the guys! And then Hans Sachs sends Eva home so she doesn’t elope and the riot sort of stops! And then! Omg and then! This awful scary figure in black holding a lantern comes out of the shadows singing a dirge-like tune – it’s the Night Watchman, and he’s dressed in Angie’s Maleficent costume, headgear and all. It is REDONK. End Act Two.
Intermission Number Two. We go outside and get dinner and ice cream. I am surprised at the number of people out on the streets still and then I realize it’s not even 7pm.
Act Three. There are noticeably fewer people in the theatre. This is a marathon, people. Commitment is half the battle. So we open in Hans Sachs’s shop and he is reading. I remember being bored. The guy playing Hans Sachs is a really good singer though. His name is Iain Paterson. Walther appears and Hans Sachs tries again to teach him how to sing in the Mastersingers style. This time is more successful, and Walther composes a pretty beautiful song. For the first time all day, I thought, oh wow, that’s lovely, I don’t feel like I am being bombarded by the noise of clanging pots.
This is where things got confusing. Walther leaves to get dressed for the festival, and Beckmesser arrives, still torn up and hurt from his beating the night before. Like, FFS Wagner, this guy really didn’t do anything. He’s mean and annoying but Wagner clearly wants the audience to delight in his misfortune and pain here because he’s so goddamn anti-Semitic. What an asstard. Beckmesser sees the new song on Hans’s desk, and it’s in Hans’s handwriting because he transcribed it while Walther was singing and composing it. But Beckmesser sees that it’s in Hans’s writing, Hans doesn’t correct him, and Beckmesser gets mad assuming that Hans is entering the competition. This is a big problem for Beck because the great Hans Sachs is the best singer or something and is serious competition. Beckmesser’s all “Aw come on Hans you’re breaking my barrrrs!” So Hans gives Beckmesser the song that Walther just wrote. He just gives it to him. And he warns him that it’s hard to sing so he better be careful. Like that’s Hans’s plan, to have Beckmesser sing Walther’s great song but not practice it enough so he ends up messing up and embarrassing himself. Whaaat a plan.
Then Eva arrives and weirdly so weirdly flirts with Hans. She clearly came looking for Walther, and when she didn’t see him, thought the next best idea was to trick Hans into thinking she came looking for him. She dumb. But then Walther comes downstairs and she like cries out in joy and Hans is like see, you love him, and she is like yeah sorry I played with your heart I got lost in the game oh baby baby. Then David and Magdalena appear, and Hans Sachs promotes David from apprentice to whatever is above that, and also is like hey you two should get married, you have my blessing, which apparently was necessary for a man’s sort-of boss to give back then even though both men are clearly over 50 years old. And then the only fantastic part of the entire thing occurs: All five of these characters sing a beautiful quintet with little to no accompaniment, and the opera should have ended there. It was gorgeous. During the applause after this movement, I actually started gathering my things because I thought it was the end. It should have been. But then there was another hour and a half.
But of course it couldn’t be over – we have to see the festival in its entirety! First, all the guilds in Nuremberg show off their skills and wares. It’s the most random procession. We see different art works on display, and like metalworks I think, and then all of a sudden there are five gigantic soft pretzels on display for judging and one gets a blue ribbon. WHAT IS THIS SHOW. I really wanted a pretzel.
Then the Mastersingers have their competition in front of the entire town. Beckmesser sings the song he got from Hans, but he didn’t practice and has no idea how it’s supposed to go so it’s a huge mess of a thing and it’s really awkward and everyone has fremdschamen which they actually know they have because it’s their word, the Germans.
Beckmesser tells everyone that he didn’t write this crap, that Hans Sachs did. Everyone gasps, they all actually gasp, because erma p, how could the great Hans Sachs’s have written this terrible song? Hans is like, people please, A) I didn’t write it, and B) it’s actually a good song so why not let the guy who wrote it sing it how it’s supposed to be sung? And then Walther sings and everyone realizes he should be a Master and so they make him one and announce him the winner of the competition/young girl and Eva is so happy that she can marry the guy she fell in love with yesterday.
BUT THEN, Walther steps back with Hans Sachs and is like…um…Hans…I changed my mind! I don’t want to be a Master NOR do I want to marry this rando! And Hans, oh my god, Hans gives a speech that actually had me rolling in my seat laughing, not believing what was happening in front of me. Hans Sachs, in an effort to convince Walther to accept his prize (a wife) and to become a member of the Masters guild, sings a prolonged speech about how important it is to be German, to continue German art, and how even art like Walther’s that is different and challenging still has to be performed within the existing culture and framework in order to, well, exist, and that he and everyone and all of Germany need “Germany” like their current system/government in order to make their art, be happy, and live good lives. In order to respect Germany and all the good things Germany has done, Walther needs to marry this girl. AND THEN THE WHOLE CAST PULLS OUT LIFE SIZE CARDBOARD CUTOUTS OF THE FAMOUS GERMANS THAT WERE PICTURED ON THE SHOW CURTAIN, LIKE FROM BEHIND THE ACTORS COME HUGE STANDEES OF GOETHE AND VARIOUS GRIMMS AND OTTO VON BISMARCK AND WHO THE HELL KNOWS AND THAT’S HOW THIS SHOW ENDED AND OH MY GOD IT WAS THE CRAZIEST THING EVER.
There’s one more performance, Tuesday March 10. If you have seven free hours, you should go. Or just catch the ending. Worth it.