"The rules are only good if they admit exceptions." - Hans Sachs, Die Meistersinger, Act III
Over the course of the 6+ hours of Otto Schenk's monumental production of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - which I saw Wednesday night at the Met for the fourth time, and the first time in seven years - there are many, many extraordinary moments. (Perhaps too many.) But, the one moment which will forever be burned in my memory comes at the beginning of the opera's final scene: the St. John's Day festival and its climactic song contest. After processioning in with the other Mastersingers to great fanfare, Hans Sachs, the real-life cobbler-composer at the center of this archetypal human comedy, stands before the townspeople of Nuremberg and listens with a mix of gravity and humility as they sing his praises.
"If I must submit to honor," Sachs responds, "let it be that of seeing myself loved by you."
Singing the role of Sachs was the veteran bass-baritone James Morris who, with his gray hair and regal gait, has virtually owned this role over more than two dozen performances at the Met since 2001. (Morris was also the Met's preeminent Wotan in Wagner's Ring of the Niebelung until Bryn Terfel took over in 2012.) Never have I witnessed such a powerful convergence of art and reality: at that moment, Morris was Hans Sachs. (The Met has posted a video of the scene on its website.)
What made this incredible moment all the more extraordinary is that it never should have happened in the first place. Sachs, one of the most demanding baritone roles in the repertoire, was originally to have been sung by Johan Reuter, who bowed out before rehearsals began. The Met first approached Michael Volle as a possible replacement, as he'll be taking over the role of Wotan during the next Ring cycle in 2018. But, Volle had a prior commitment and could only fill two performances - including last Saturday's matinee, which was broadcast live in HD and on the radio.