WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von N¸rnberg

Music composed by Richard Wagner. Libretto by the composer.

First Performance: 21 June 1868, Kˆnigliches Hof- und Nationaltheater,

Principal Roles:
Hans Sachs, cobbler bass-baritone
Veit Pogner, goldsmith } bass
Kunz Vogelgesang, furrier } tenor
Konrad Nachtigal, tinsmith } bass
Sixtus Beckmesser, town clerk } bass
Fritz Kothner, baker } Mastersingers bass
Balthasar Zorn, pewterer } tenor
Ulrich Eisslinger, grocer } tenor
Augustin Moser, tailor } tenor
Hermann Ortel soapmaker } bass
Hans Schwarz, stocking weaver } bass
Hans Foltz, coppersmith bass
Walther von Stolzing,
a young knight from Franconia
David, Sachís apprentice tenor
Eva, Pognerís daughter soprano
Magdalene, Evaís nurse soprano
A Nightwatchman bass

Setting: 16th Century N¸rnberg (Northern Bavaria [Nordbayern])


Act I

Inside the church of St Katherine.

Walther von Stolzing, a young nobleman, has just come to Nuremberg and fallen in love with
Eva, the daughter of Pogner, a rich goldsmith and mastersinger, one of the most important
men of the town. After the church service Eva contrives a few minutes with Walther to
explain, in answer to his eager questions, that, although she loves him, she is not free
to marry. Her father has decided to offer her hand to the winner of a mastersinging
contest to be held the next day, for the festival of St John, Midsummer’s Day.

Eva’s maid and companion, Magdalena, arranges for her sweetheart, the apprentice David, to
prepare Walther for the contest, since only mastersingers are eligible to compete. David
is horrified to discover that Walther knows nothing at all about the art of mastersinging
and that he hopes to reach in one day a stage which requires years of painful study –
such as he is undergoing himself as he studies singing as well as shoemaking under Hans
Sachs, the greatest of the mastersingers.

Other apprentices are meanwhile arranging the church for a singing test. The mastersingers
begin to arrive. First are Pogner and Beckmesser, the town clerk who wants to marry Eva
and is trying to urge her father to put in a good word for him. Walther takes Pogner
aside and explains that he wants to join the mastersingers guild. Beckmesser eyes him off

When the meeting begins Pogner announces that he intends to give his daughter and her
dowry as a prize in the festival song contest. Sachs suggests that the people ought to
have some say in the judging, since the contest is to be public, An argument develops
between Sachs and Beckmesser,who clearly regards Sachs, a widower, as a rival for Eva’s
hand. Sachsenrages him by answering that they are both too old for a young girl.
Pogner then presents Walther as a candidate for the guild. To prove his suitability he has
to sing a song but is failed by Beckmesser, who acts as examiner.

Sachs defends the song and accuses Beckmesser of not being objective, but the other
masters also reject the song, finding it too free and not in accordance with the strict
rules of their craft. In the ensuing argument Beckmesser complains that Sachs should
spend less time on poetry and more on the pair of shoes he has ordered for the next day.

Walther, failed in the test, leaves the church angrily.

Act II

A street between the houses of Pogner and Hans Sachs, the evening of the same day.

Eva, having learned of Walther’s failure to become a master, goes along to Sachs to find
out the full story. He, still reflecting on the strange beauty of Walther’s song, tests
Eva’s feelings. She responds so hotly to his disparaging remarks about Walther that he
realises she loves him. He is now able to plan how to help the lovers.

When Walther comes along to find Eva he is still very angry with the masters and persuades
Eva to elope with him.

She goes inside to change clothes with Magdalena, so that she can escape unnoticed and
also so that Magdalena can take her place at the window to listen to a serenade which
Beckmesser is supposed to be singing to her that night.

Walther and Eva wait in the street for a chance to slip away but Sachs,inside his shop,
has heard their plans and is determined to stop them from taking such a rash step, so he
keeps a light shining across the street so they cannot get past unobserved. When
Beckmesser begins his serenade Sachs begins to hammer and sing a vigorous cobbling song.
To Beckmesser’s objections he agrees to stop singing but points out that he has to
keep hammering – to finish the shoes Beckmesser has been complaining about.

After some argument it is agreed that Sachs is to act as marker for Beckmesser’s song,
only hammering when he makes a mistake. But when Beckmesser sings the hammering is so
fast and furious that the shoes are finished before the song.

Then David sees Magdalena at the window and rushes out jealously to attack Beckmesser.
People open their windows to see what is going on. Apprentices from rival guilds rush
into the street and a general brawl develops, only broken off by the appearance of the
night watchman.

Sachs manages to bundle Eva into her own house and pull Walther with him into his house
just as they are on the point of running away in the confusion.


Inside Sachs’ workshop, the next morning.

Hans Sachs is in a reflective mood, thinking of the midsummer madness of the night before,
but still eager to help Eva and Walther. Learning that Walther has had a dream he
encourages him to make it into a song, teaching as he goes along how to frame it so as
not to outrage too violently the mastersingers’ rules and writing it down himself as
Walther sings it. With the final stanza still uncomposed they go into another room to
change their clothes, leaving the song on the bench.

Beckmesser comes in and pockets the song gleefully, thinking it is by Sachs. To his
surprise, Sachs does not object when he finds out, but makes him a present of it. He is
torn between gratitude, feeling certain that a song by Sachs will win him the prize, and
distrust that Sachs has something up his sleeve – as indeed he does, though all
Beckmesser’s guesses are wide of the mark. He goes off to learn the song.

Eva comes in, ostensibly to complain about her shoes. Walther is inspired by her presence
to finish the song, which Sachs, putting his own feelings for Eva aside and satisfied
with his matchmaking, pronounces to be a mastersong.Eva and Walther are deeply grateful
to him for his help. Sachs calls David and Magdalena in to help celebrate the new song
and also promotes David to the status of journeyman, which means that he and Magdalena
will be able to get married. They all set off for the festival.

The festival meadow.

The apprentices of the different guilds dance and sing while waiting for the arrival of
the masters. Then the proper business of the day begins: the townspeople sing an ode of
praise to Sachs, who thanks them and makes the public announcement of the prize to be
awarded by Pogner, exhorting those who aspire to the prize to be sure they are worthy of
it in all respects.

The first competitor is Beckmesser, who makes a hopeless mess of Walther’s song. In the
face of general derision he defends himself by claiming that the song is by Sachs. Sachs
denies this and tells them that the song is beautiful but has been ruined by Beckmesser.
To prove his case he calls on the real composer to sing the song, thus giving Walther a
chance to be heard – which otherwise, as an outsider, he would not have had.

With the unfair assistance of a full orchestra and chorus to back him, compared to
Beckmesser’s solitary lute, he sings his song, to general acclaim. Eva crowns him with
the victor’s garland and Pogner offers him the chain of a mastersinger. He rejects it
angrily, but Sachs reproves him, telling him to honor the masters because their care has
kept the art of poetry alive.

[Synopsis Source: Opera~Opera]

Click here for
the complete libretto

image_description=Act III from Die Meistersinger von N¸rnberg (Ferdinand Leeke)
first_audio_name=Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von N¸rnberg
product_title=Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von N¸rnberg
product_by=Hans Sachs: Paul Schoffler
Veit Pogner: Gottlob Frick
Konrad Nachtigall: Eberhard Waechter
Sixtus Beckmesser: Erich Kunz
Fritz Kothner: Hans Braun
Walther von Stolzing: Hans Beirer
David: Murray Dickie
Eva: Irmgard Seefried
Magdalene: Rosette Anday
Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper, Fritz Reiner (cond.)
Live performance: 14 November 1955, Vienna