It’s a delight to see a virtual performance of David McVicar’s 2011 Glyndebourne production of Wagner’s epic midsummer opera that is more comic than comedy.
At a church service, Walter (Marco Jentzsch) becomes smitten with Eva (Anna Gabler), who tells him she is to be engaged the next day to the winner of a song contest sponsored by the local Mastersingers. Her friend, Magdalene (Michaela Selinger), asks her boyfriend David (Topi Lehtipuu), an apprentice to cobbler Hans Sachs (Gerald Finley), to explain the rules of the competition. The Mastersingers arrive for a preliminary song trial and Walther upsets smug town clerk Beckmesser (Johannes Martin Kränzle) who is keen to win. When Eva’s father, goldsmith Veit Pogner (Alastair Miles), confirms her hand as the prize, Sachs suggests she should have a say in the matter. Things don’t fare well for Walther and he storms off, leaving Sachs to ponder the strange appeal of his song.
Act II begins later that evening as Eva hears how badly Walther fared and he asks her to elope with him. Beckmesser arrives by Eva’s window to serenade her but Magdalene appears as a stand-in. As Sachs does his best to put him off, David appears thinking Beckmesser is trying to court his girlfriend and a fracas ensues.
Act III picks up the following day as Sachs forgives David. Walther arrives to tell of a dream he had, and Sachs recognises its potential as a prize-winning song. Beckmesser appears snooping around and Sachs catchers him pocketing Walther’s poem but lets him keep it. When the day of the contest arrives, will Beckmesser be able to get the words to fit to his music and win the prize? Or can a lyric that is born of love only be sung from the right heart?
Wagner can provoke consternation because much of his work contains nationalistic elements that were later adopted and promoted by the Nazis. My own view is that if you look for a problem you will undoubtedly find one so perhaps it is time that we focus on Wagner’s work for what it was rather than what it became for a very short period of time.
The music of Meistersinger is typical Wagner with its rich harmony, complex texture and lush orchestration including short musical phrases associated with certain characters, objects, themes, or emotions, and which thread delightfully throughout. With musical composition very much at the heart of this opera, the gulf between high art and popular art, and the conflict between artistic tradition and innovation, are explored although ultimately it is the comfort that music brings that provides serenity in a world filled with madness.
Finley provides a strong vocal and dramatic performance as Sachs which captures the intense feelings of his character, a widower, who is compelled to realise that a relationship with the much younger Eva would only result in disaster and is thus driven to do the right thing: a cobbler after all can see through the finery to who a person truly is. Kränzle provides the perfect counterpoint with his hilarious performance of the very opposite Beckmesser, all prissy pride with a dose of malice thrown in for good measure, and for whom heartbreak is therefore inevitable.
Designers Vicki Mortimer and Paule Constable successfully capture the spirit of nature despite the unnecessary updating of the staging to post-Napoleonic Germany, whilst Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra from a workmanlike opening prelude to the timelier ebb and flow befitting of a festival on a long summer day.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is available to view for free until 6th September at https://www.glyndebourne.com/events/die-meistersinger-von-nurnberg/?fbclid=IwAR07aqZQ_zs-yzC0QDJg9n9rM4brUBWLxRJ7Ub_pguV5VK2At1zxBefAcLE
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 1st September 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★