Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne, May 2011

This new production of Meistersinger by David McVicar elicited thunderous applause at the end. And what an end it was, with Hans Sachs’s monologue being given its full force in a way I’ve not seen before.

Finley as Sachs in the final scene of Act III, all photos by Alastair Muir

When Walther refuses the award of Mastership from Pogner, Gerald Finley as Sachs draws him aside to stage right, and his first few lines, Verachtet mir die Meister nicht …, begging Walther not to spurn the Masters, are sung privately to him while the others talk in confusion among themselves. As Sachs moves forward with his great monologue, explaining how the Masters have nurtured true art through difficult times in the past, he moves to stage left and grasps Beckmesser by the arm. This is a nice touch because the poor old town clerk, pompous ass though he is, has made such a frightful mess of things and was moved to shed a tear as Walther sang his prize song. Then as Sachs continues to develop his great monologue he rushes round the stage urgently addressing everyone. His Hab’ Acht!, when he warns of German Art falling under false rule, is a wonderful moment. There is nothing sententious here, nothing to be taken amiss, just an appeal not to be led astray by false and foreign ideas, and it resonated with me as a striking comment against that awful 12-year rule known as the Third Reich. The chorus comes in with enormous force, Eva places the wreath on Sachs’s head, and he pitches it up to the revellers at the top of the bandstand. The curtain stayed up, the audience roared their approval, and the performers and production team on stage received a hugely vocal standing ovation.

Some say that Glyndebourne is too small a venue for Meistersinger, and it’s only their second Wagner production, but it was terrific. The designs by Vicki Mortimer are simply wonderful. I loved Sachs’s study in the first part of Act III with the wonderful summer morning light entering through the window. Paule Constable’s lighting is superbly calm, but also thrillingly dramatic as that warning shaft of light emerges in Act II at the moment Walther and Eva are about to elope in the darkness.

Beckmesser and Sachs in Act II

This is just before Beckmesser arrives to serenade Eva, and here and in the other two acts, Johannes Martin Kränzle was perfect in both voice and dramatic interpretation. He took full advantage of David McVicar’s clever production ideas. When he creeps into Sachs’s study in Act III the music allows time for plenty of side play and it was very funny: his tumbling over the bench, the paper sticking on his hand, and then his shoe, the boxes falling out of the shelves. It was all done with perfect comic timing.

Kränzle and Finley as Beckmessser and Sachs were the stars of this performance, and Finley opened out Sachs’s role in interesting ways. In the Flieder monologue of Act II, as he thinks of the Masters’ rejection of Walther’s Act I performance, he exhibits huge frustration. And in the Wahn monologue of Act III he shows enormous anguish, even kicking a chair over at the beginning, but calming down as he sings of his beloved Nuremberg and the customs and contentment in deed and work. Then after he expostulates about the events of the previous night, the London Philharmonic under the brilliant direction of Vladimir Jurowski, rises beautifully to the challenge of Sachs’s Der Flieder war’s: Johannisnacht! (It was the Elder-tree: Midsummer’s Eve!) Nun aber kam Johannistag! (But now there comes Midsummer’s Day!). These great monologues by Sachs are almost always stirringly sung, but Finley brought them out with huge emotion. A great performance.

Pogner enters with Eva in the final scene

His interaction with the other cast members was excellent, and the quintet in Act III was beautifully sung with Marco Jentzsch, Anna Gabler, Michaela Selinger, and Topi Lehtipuu in the roles of Walther, Eva, Magdalena and David. Alastair Miles was excellent as Eva’s father Pogner, and Marco Jentzsch was a strongly voiced Walther with a heroic tone. Anna Gabler also sang strongly as Eva, but perhaps a bit too forcefully for my taste. When Eva goes to see Sachs early in Act III, I’m used to her being very anxious, but here she seemed ill-tempered, so that rather than seeing her as a glorious future wife for Walther, I wondered if he knew what he was letting himself in for. Also in Act II when she hits Sachs she appeared more as a leading lady for Richard Strauss rather than Wagner. Her young nurse Magdalena often comes over as the more forceful and difficult of the two, but here it was the reverse, and Michaela Selinger’s well-sung Magdelena seemed perfectly charming. While on the topic of performance, Mats Almgren sang beautifully as the Night Watchman.

The jugglers in Act III

Among many lovely points about this production, I rather liked Augustin Moser, one of the mastersingers, bringing his small daughter into Act I where she sits on his lap until Frau Moser retrieves her. This was a nice touch, but I was not so wild about the fight at the end of Act II. There were more women in nightshirts than men, and the choreography for the rent-a-mob fight crew was just too much. This is supposed to be an impromptu row caused by all the noise, and it should look like it. By contrast, the choreography for the dance in the final scene of Act III was very good: the girls from Fürth swishing their skirts, slapping their thighs and dancing in circular formation in the bandstand, with the boys joining in on the outside. I loved the jugglers, particularly those on stilts — they were brilliant. And the way Pogner brought Eva in on his arm reminded me briefly of the recent Royal Wedding. Then immediately Sachs came on the chorus made a glorious sound, and Finley’s Euch macht ihr’s leicht, mir macht ihr’s schwer . . . (For you it’s easy, but you make it hard for me . . .) was riveting. This was Finley’s first Hans Sachs, and as he matures into the role it will only get better.

My view of the stage from the upper circle was perfect, and if you can get ticket returns anywhere in the theatre, go for it at any price. Performances continue until June 26 — for more details click here.

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