Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

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Uncompleted Operas

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg) is an opera in three acts, written and composed by Richard Wagner. It is one of the most popular operas in the repertory, and is among the longest still commonly performed today, usually taking around four and a half hours. It was first performed at the Königliches Hof- und National-Theater in Munich, on June 21, 1868. The conductor at the premiere was Hans von Bülow.

The story takes place in Nuremberg during the middle of the 16th century. At the time, Nuremberg was an Imperial Free City, and one of the centers of the Renaissance in Northern Europe. The story revolves around the real-life guild of Meistersinger (Master Singers), an association of amateur poets and musicians, mostly from the middle class and often master craftsmen in their main professions. The Mastersingers developed a craftsmanlike approach to music-making, with an intricate system of rules for composing and performing songs. The work draws much of its charm from its faithful depiction of the Nuremberg of the era and the traditions of the Mastersinger guild. One of the main characters, the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs, is based on an actual historical figure: Hans Sachs (1494–1576), the most famous of the historical Mastersingers.

In the first Act, the town goldsmith Veit Pogner announces that the winner of the St. John's Feast Day (Midsummer's Day) song contest will win the hand in marriage of his daughter, Eva. The only stipulation is that the winner must be, or become, a Mastersinger. Walther, a young knight who is already in love with Eva, determines to enter the contest, but his song is too radical, and he fails in his attempt to become a Mastersinger. In the second Act, the town clerk Beckmesser decides to enter the contest and attempts to woo Eva, but unwittingly causes a riot. In the third act, the cobbler Hans Sachs helps Walther to compose a Mastersong with which Walther ultimately defeats his rival Beckmesser and wins Eva.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg occupies a unique place in Wagner's oeuvre. It is the only comedy among his mature operas, (he having come to reject his early Das Liebesverbot), and is his only opera centered on a historically well-defined time and place rather than a mythical or legendary setting. It is the only mature Wagner opera to be based on an entirely original story, devised by Wagner himself. It is also the only one of Wagner's mature operas in which there are no supernatural or magical powers or events. It incorporates many of the operatic conventions that Wagner had railed against in his essays on the theory of opera: rhymed verse, arias, choruses, a quintet, and even a ballet. Die Meistersinger is, like Orfeo, Capriccio, and Wagner's own earlier Tannhäuser, a musical composition in which the composition of music is a pivotal part of the story.


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