Then there is what “Meistersinger” asks of its performers. In the orchestra pit, the musicians must pace themselves as if for a marathon. Some spend intermissions icing inflamed tendons, while others head for the cafeteria backstage for a quick bite.

On performance days, principal oboe player Nathan Hughes usually stays home and takes a two-hour nap. He books a massage for the following day—“just to make sure that my body can be ready to do it again”—and spends much of his time between shows crafting new reeds for the next performance.

He goes through about five reeds in a typical “Meistersinger,” which features the oboe prominently. The mental demands over those six hours can be just as exhausting, he said.

“In the course of this opera there are hundreds and hundreds of details to pick up on,” Mr. Hughes said. “You’re in front of a car that’s about to hit you, and if you don’t jump out of the way in enough time, you’re going to get smashed.”

RTWT

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