How long is too long for an opera?
Looking from the outside in at the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg,” even the most devoted fan might tremble at the thought of committing about five-and-a-half hours to one opera.
Fear not. In every aspect, the singers, the musicians, the set designers, wigmasters and costumers have conspired to make the evening simply fly by. The cast is splendid, with American bass-baritone James Morris as the shoemaker Hans Sachs, a gentleman so conciliatory and wise, we’d like to bottle him and take him to Washington, D.C.
South African tenor Johan Botha, who had the title role in Lyric’s “Lohengrin” two seasons back, is the nobleman Walther von Stolzing, who (spoiler alter) wins the Nuremberg singing contest. What a voice he has, strong, soaring and filling the 3,600-seat Civic Opera House with such ease.
Walther has fallen head over heels in love with Eva, the winsome heroine of this male-dominated spectacular. She is sung by Illinois soprano Amanda Majeski, a Northwestern University grad and two-year Ryan Opera Center member, her voice is pliant and silvery, brimming with intensity in the Act III contest scene. She holds her own amid the heavy hitters and adds beauty to every scene she is in.
Walther has an inept rival for the singing prize and the hand of lovely Eva. Popular Danish baritone Bo Skovhus has the role of Sixtus Beckmesser and he plays it for laughs. He turns the character into a whining fuss-budget, and when he sings his contest entry, he is beyond funny. Of course, hilarious supertitles don’t hurt.
Eva’s father is played by Russian bass Dimitry Ivanshchenko in his Lyric debut. His virile voice dominates Act I, moving from strength to strength, revealing the depth of tone Russian basses seem to have in abundance.
In two supporting roles are a pair of fine singing actors. David, Sach’s apprentice, is sung by Texas tenor and Ryan Opera Center alum David Portillo, and Magdalene, David’s sweetheart and Eva’s confidant, is portrayed by American mezzo Jamie Barton. Their voices, though sturdy and well-placed, do not detract for the lightness and sunshine they bring to their roles.
These soloists, Lyric’s superior chorus and inestimable orchestra, under the able leadership of Lyric’s artistic director Sir Andrew Davis, and Wagner’s music make the evening unforgettable.
How long is too long? Trust me. You will not regret one minute you spend in the audience at Lyric’s “Meistersinger.”
“Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” sung in German with English supertitles, runs through March 3 at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Call 312-322-2244 or visit their website for tickets. North Shore ticket holders will be happy to know that evening performances conclude at 11:02 p.m., plenty of time to take Metra’s 11:35 p.m. from Ogilvie Transportation Center. N.B. Union Station’s Fox Lake line has no 11:35 p.m. train.