The Ring excepted, Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is the greatest opera ever written. This video shows its stirring finale, in which Hans Sachs persuades Walter von Stolzing, who has just won the contest of song (and with it Eva's heart) not to scorn Nürnberg's Mastersingers, but to honour their art.
Regrettably, Herbert von Karajan's definitive staging was never filmed, so no ideal video of the opera is available. This Met production is the best that currently exists, despite imperfect leads and a politically correct chorus who more closely evoke downtown Harlem than medieval Germany. A Sydney Opera video boasts a superior cast, but is blighted by a Leftist, revisionist ending that undermines the entire performance.
The Metropolitan Opera clip shown here is distinguished by fine costumes and props and a magnificent set design. This is truly the Mastersingers of Nürnberg, with the Sinnwell Tower of the Imperial Castle visible in the distance. Also, the staging of the finale conforms more closely to Wagner's instructions than does any other performance currently on video, offering a moment that is deeply touching for those who know the complete opera and recall the hints of an attraction between Sachs and Eva.
One cannot help but be moved by Sachs's final admonition to the audience: "Honour your German Masters." His words are as timely today as they were when Wagner penned them in 1868. The following translation, by yours truly, attempts to include as much rhyme as is possible while preserving the meaning of the original text.
SACHS: Beware! Evil plots threaten us all.
Should the German empire and people one day fall
Under a false, foreign rule,
No prince his people would understand.
And foreign intrigue and vanity
They would plant in German land.
What is German and true would soon be forgot
If it did not live on in the German Masters' art.
So honour your German Masters, I say to you!
Then you will summon spirits good and true.
If you give their works your favour
Then should the Holy Roman Empire
One day fall apart,
We would, even then, still possess
Our holy German Art!
DVD of this performance
Complete opera on CD (definitive Karajan version)