The knight Walther is too often experienced by the audience through Eva’s eyes – handsome, strong, rebellious within acceptable boundaries, virile, dashing, a born artist and a hell of a tenor. A recent performance of avid McVicar’s insightful Gyndebourne/Chicago/San Francisco production, and a careful listen to the Reginald Goodall English-language recording, suggests that the truth lies perhaps a bit south of chivalrous virility. Think about it – would you feel okay about your only daughter having a crush on someone like this?
For one thing, he’s not at church. I mean, he’s there, but not as a member of the congregation. He’s purposely in the church building, but his only objective seems to be to perve young women – or, worse yet, one particular woman – the daughter of the town goldsmith who is looking for someone to inherit his very sizeable fortune. Does it bother anyone that, while apparently every man, woman and child in Nuremberg is singing a hymn seeking the Savior’s blessing, Walther “stands at some distance at the side leaning against a column with his eyes fixed on Eva” and periodically “express[ing] by gestures a longing entreaty” to her?
Very soon afterwards he asks to wed her, in order to bed her, and sings about his passion for her to a tune that will soon become familiar as the abgesang of the Prize Song! Yes, he purports in Act III to suddenly find, in inspiration, a motif that in fact he had composed long ago. (See “Für Euch Gut und Blut, für Euch Dichter’s heil’ger Muth!”) The guy plagiarizes his own tunes and repackages them as newly minted. The only composer I knew who got away with that on a regular basis was Antonio Vivaldi, and even he didn’t do it very well.
It is then revealed that Walther has betrayed his own family and the traditions of his community. Pogner reveals to the group that Walther is the “last of his line,” and that Pogner had helped him to sell all of his land. Think about that one – Walther inherited land that through generations had been maintained in his family lineage and, rather than maintaining it, marrying, and passing it along to his own son in the order of primogeniture, sold it and left town. So much for the von Stolzing line. Hardly the sort of fellow one can rely upon to honor his heritage or to hold in trust what generations before him had labored to preserve.
Then we discover he’s a liar and a sycophant. Fleeing with a servant from his now liquidated family home, Walther learns that he can assume ownership of all of Pogner’s wealth (what Pogner describes as “all I possess and all I hold”) and become, one assumes, the wealthiest man in all of Nurmberg, if he can get Eva to bed. And the only way he can do that is to be accepted into her father’s Guild. Walther’s immediate response? He walks right up to her father and baldfacedly lies to him:
You know I left my home and came to Nuremberg. I did it solely for the love of art. Until just now I admit I forgot to tell you, but now I say that I want nothing more than to be a Mastersinger! Please let me into the Guild!
Is this Eddie Haskell from Leave It to Beaver, or what?
Add to this his obvious tendency towards violence (threatening to run his sword through Sachs, Beckmesser and the Night Watchman, all within ten minutes of each other), his pugnacious arrogance, his egotism, his rampant satyriasis so pronounced as to tempt him to elope with (and thus ruin the reputation of) the daughter of the man who has tried to help him, and his ridiculous decision to reject the prize that he worked so hard to achieve (on the stated ground that he can be happy without it – what does that mean, I wonder)…
I ask you – is this a man you would want your daughter to marry?