Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Synopsis
explained by director Sergio Morabito
In Dr. Pogner’s Private Conservatory. Pogner, the institute’s founder and director, is planning to transfer it into public ownership. His successor is to be chosen at a public singing exam the next day, Midsummer Day. The last stipulation of the retiring patriarch is that his successor agree to marry his daughter Eva, through whom he hopes to exercise a measure of control over the institute even after his departure. He doesn’t know that Eva is in a secret relationship with a music lecturer and therapist employed there, Hans Sachs
On a visit to Pogner, the aristocrat Walther von Stolzing has got to know his daughter and the two of them have fallen head over heels in love. Walther discovers that only the winner of the following day’s contest may ask for Eva’s hand – an unexpected obstacle for Walther, who has made no study of music whatever. As requested by the lecturer Magdalena, David – a master student of Hans Sachs – tries to initiate Walther in the mysteries of the singers’ art.
Walther informs Pogner of his desire to qualify for entrance to the singing exam. Pogner, who has so far favoured the candidacy of the head of the examination committee, Sixtus Beckmesser, is delighted by the added prestige a blue-blooded successor may bring to the establishment. At a conference of the teaching staff, Pogner forces through Walther’s candidacy against all the reservations of his colleagues. He is backed up by Hans Sachs, who has long been aiming at a democratisation of the examination procedure. Walther improvises a song but is roundly rejected.
It is Midsummer Eve. Magdalena learns of Walther’s failure from David, and blames David for it. Once again Eva tries to dissuade her father from insisting her marriage be tied to the succession – but without success. To find out more about how Walther’s audition went, she pays a visit to Hans Sachs. He is deeply unsettled by Walther’s performance, since it made him aware of the limits of his own creativity as well as his advancing age. Eva and Sachs try to gauge what effect Walther’s arrival will have on their relationship. Sachs’s jealousy and Eva’s anger escalate.
Eva meets the despondent Walther. Walther manages to persuade Eva of the need to escape from her father’s world. However, Sachs has eavesdropped on their meeting and does all he can to prevent them escaping. Sixtus Beckmesser then makes a very opportune appearance. He has come to try out his competition entry on Eva to make sure she approves of it. He doesn’t notice that the woman he is serenading is not Eva, but Magdalena, who has changed clothes with her. Hans Sachs keeps disrupting Beckmesser’s performance with targeted outbursts that not only hinder Walther and Eva’s escape but also bring David onto the scene, who takes Beckmesser to be a rival for Magdalena’s affections and attacks him. As night falls the fracas develops into a free-for-all, in the course of which Sachs separates the two lovers by force.
Sachs bemoans the events of the previous night. In view of the inevitability of losing Eva to the younger man, Sachs now attempts to make a success of his candidacy so as to be able to reform the conservatory according to his own plans by means of his influence over Walther. He encourages Walther to compose a song with which he may be able to take part in the contest after all. With this in mind, Sachs seizes the opportunity when Beckmesser, badly battered by David, comes to him seeking help. Beckmesser finds Sachs’s transcript of the song Walther has composed, and Sachs allows him to take it for his own use, assuring him he will never publicly claim authorship of it. Beckmesser, who has lost confidence in his own song, is overjoyed that he will be able to compete with what he supposes to be a product of the popular Sachs’s pen.
On Midsummer Day, Dr. Pogner’s Conservatory opens its doors to all interested visitors, in front of whom the contest now commences. Beckmesser, unable to decipher Sachs’s transcript, improvises a song that chiefly expresses his own acute discomfort, and leaves the audience and the jury mystified. Incomprehension turns to mockery, and Beckmesser’s performance is forcibly terminated. Sachs declares the song had only made a bad impression because it was performed the wrong way. This enables him to secure admission for the song’s composer, Walther. His rendition captivates everyone present, but Walther refuses to accept the now vacant post as Pogner’s successor. Thereupon a self-empowering Hans Sachs takes over as director of the institute to public acclaim.