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Wolfgang Koch as Hans Sachs and Emma Bell As Eva [Photo © ROH 2011 / Clive Barda]
23 Dec 2011

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera House

Perhaps it’s no accident that Graham Vick’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg returns to the Royal Opera House for the Christmas season. Red, green, gold, sumptuous colours that warm a long, grey evening.

Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Walther von Stolzing: Simon O'Neill, Eva: Emma Bell, Magdalene: Heather Shipp, David: Toby Spence, Veit Pogner: John Tomlinson, Hans Sachs: Wolfgang Koch, Kunz Vogelgesang: Colin Judson, Konrad Nachtigall: Nicholas Folwell, Fritz Kother: Donald Maxwell, Hermann Ortel: Jihoon Kim, Balthazar Zorn: Martyn Hill, Augustin Moser: Pablo Bensch, Ulrich Eisslinger: Andrew Rees, Hans Foltz: Jeremy White, Hans Schwarz: Richard Wiegiold, Nightwatchman: Robert Lloyd. Conductor: Antonio Pappano, Chorus master: Renato Balsadonna, Director: Graham Vick, Revival Director: Elaine Kidd, Designs: Richard Hudson, Original Lighting: Wolfgang Goebel, Movement: Ron Howell. Royal Opera House, London, 19th Decemeber 2011.

Above: Wolfgang Koch as Hans Sachs and Emma Bell As Eva

Photos © ROH 2011 / Clive Barda

 

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a comedy and here’s it’s presented as the ultimate up market Xmas show. It’s extremely enjoyable, and an ideal introduction to the opera experience. Richard Wagner, though, gets sidelined.

Sir John Tomlinson is a definite reason for catching this revival. The days when he could sing Hans Sachs are past, but he creates an unusually vivid Veit Pogner. Tomlinson plays Pogner powerfully, as if he was a former Sachs, whose reasons for committing his daughter to this bizarre marriage make sense. He’s dedicating his daughter to art, not too shabby politics. Luckily for him, and for Eva, Walter von Stolzing arrives in the nick of time. Indeed, Beckmesser very nearly persuades the Meistersingers to drive Walter out of town. Things could so easily have turned out quite differently. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg may be comic, but it evolves against a background of tension. At any moment anarchy could breakout. Unless the Meistersingers adapt, they might not survive.

Wagner builds tension into the music. The Meistersingers sing at cross purposes, and in the riot scene, the turbulence of the chorus evokes the violence which comes with all revolution. That’s why the Night Watchman sings “bewahrt euch vor Gespenstern und Spuk, dass kein böser Geist eu’r Seel’ beruck’!” The music for the apprentice boys is energetic, a warning for those who remember Wagner’s protosocialism. This time, however, no dangerous ideas. We’re treated to a good natured Meistersinger, where the apprentices dance with little vigour, and the blows Sachs throws at David have no menace. Antonio Pappano received the longest applause of all on the first night,. Most audiences can relate better to joyful Romaticism in music better than to Wagner-on-edge, so it’s understandable. He clearly enjoys the life-affirming elements in this opera, which come over well. Christmas is not the right time for radical ideas, and this is not a production that would support them.

Graham Vicks’s riot scene is classic because it’s so well imagined. The townsfolk pop out of windows and hang precariously upside down over the stage. One man looks like he’s about to lose his footing (this happened in earlier productions, so it was planned) In their nightshirts the townsfolk look like escapees from an asylum, a good idea but not developed. The Festweise scene is masterfully blocked, so each guild is clearly defined. I liked the acrobats in the background, too. But these scenes aren’t for entertainment but emphasize the traumas in Nürnberg’s past.

Because John Tomlinson so dominates the first Act, Wolfgang Koch’s Hans Sach might be overlooked, but Koch understands the role. Sachs is an observer, who stands apart from the crowd, and who thinks before he acts. Koch’s Sachs is sung with sensitivity, and would be very effective in a more perceptive production which focuses on Sachs and not the scenery. Koch looks and sounds younger than the other Meistersingers and is rather more lyrical than Simon O’Neill’s Walther von Stolzing who is more hoch dramatisch than true Heldentenor. This was the best performance I’ve ever heard from O’Neill, and he was good, but it’s a part better suited to a more luminous timbre. O’Neill was, however, a good match for Emma Bell’s Eva, joyfully created though perhaps more Italianate than Wagnerian. In a cheerful, non-idiomatic production like this, it didn’t matter, and they conveyed the story. Popular favourite, Toby Spence, sang a very good David, but he’s more upper class than roustabout.

MEISTERSINGER-111216_0285.gif(L-R) Peter Coleman-Wright as Beckmesser, Wolfgang Koch as Hans Sachs, Heather Shipp as Magdalene, Simon O’Neill as Walther and Emma Bell as Eva

It was good to see many teenagers in the audience, another good reason for having a show like this in holiday time. Last week, David Chandler took his daughter to Kurt Weill’s Magical Night at the Linbury, (reviewed here) and she was ecstatic. We can give kids toys anytime, but the gift of a magical experience is beyond compare. And the same goes for adults, new to opera. This Meistersinger may not tell us much about the opera or about Wagner, but it’s an excellent night out.

Anne Ozorio

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