Tonight’s show will be taken up largely by a single opera, Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. This is a unique work among Wagner’s catalog, as it is one of only two operas, and his only mature opera, that is based on a historical time and place, and not on a mythical or legendary setting. It uses no supernatural or magical events, and was based on an original story that Wagner wrote himself (most of his operas he based on myths or legends). It was also Wagner’s only mature comedy, and is a full implementation of the influence of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, whose work Wagner discovered in 1854. It is also the only instance where Wagner used a real-life person, the noted Nuremburg Meistersinger Hans Sachs, as the basis for one of his characters.
He first conceived of the work while on vacation in Marienbad in 1845, in what is now the Czech Republic, and wrote a first draft of the story at Marienbad. He then put the concept aside until 1862, when he began work on the libretto. The overture was premiered in concert on November 2nd of that year, but Wagner did not complete the opera until 1867. The full opera was premiered on June 21st, 1868 in a production sponsored by King Ludwig II of Bavaria that was a great triumph for Wagner. Over the years, the opera has been controversially used as a rallying point for German culture, most notably during the Nazi era, but that does not change the work’s importance as a great work of art.
Tonight’s recording is from 1974, and features Karl Ridderbusch (German bass-baritone who was noted for his interpretations of the Hans Sachs role), Jean Cox, Klaus Hirte, Frieder Stricker, Hannelore Bode, and Anna Reynolds. The Bayreuth Festival Choir and Orchestra is conducted by Silvio Varviso.
We’re going to conclude the show with two works by Maurice Ravel that bear the same title. Ravel wrote Shéhérazade, ouverture de féerie in 1898 as an overture for an opera of the same name. It was his first orchestral piece. He never published it, but he conducted it on May 27th, 1899 in Paris. He never completed the opera, but he wrote a song cycle with the same name for solo soprano or tenor with orchestra in 1903, using three poems by Tristan Klingsor. It was premiered on May 17 1904. We will hear both works, the overture following the song cycle, in a performance by solo soprano Catherine Dubosc with Charles Dutoit leading the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.