Die Meistersinger, in concert at the Proms, 17 July 2010Posted on 18 July 2010
Wagner’s Meistersinger scales the heights of comedy, passion, youthful energy and mature wisdom. It’s a magnificent opera and should produce some wonderful productions, though I saw a real horror last summer at Bayreuth! In such a case one is better off with a concert performance, which of course this was, and it was terrific. The music was played with clarity and unflagging energy from the orchestra of the Welsh National Opera under the direction of Lothar Koenigs, and the cast was the same as their recently acclaimed production. Unfortunately the men were all in plain black, with no nod to the costumes, except for an apron for Hans Sachs in Act II, befitting his role as a cobbler, inundated with worried neighbours wanting to talk, and claiming uncomfortable shoes to justify their visits. This is where Amanda Roocroft as Eva interacted so well with Bryn Terfel as Sachs, their body language as eloquent as their words. Both of them sang magnificently, and Terfel gave a wonderfully nuanced performance. He built up gradually through Acts I and II, and in Act III his Wahn monologue was beautifully done, and he ended very strongly with his Verachtet mir die Meister nicht . . .
Christopher Purves was a superbly arrogant and insecure Beckmesser. He sang wonderfully, and his chewing up of the prize song was a lovely comic turn, but what a pity the translation in the libretto missed a trick in line two, translating ‘Blut’ as ‘blossom’ when it means ‘blood’ — Beckmesser has mistakenly sung Blut instead of Blüt. The last time I saw Purves he sang an excellent Tonio in I Pagliacci at the ENO, another role for a foolish and rejected lover, but I imagine his abilities go beyond these comic roles, and he’s surely a rising star. Andrew Tortise also sang beautifully as David, temporarily abandoning his beautiful tone as he made a gloriously deliberate mess of his first attempt at Am Jordan Sankt Johannes stand early in Act III. Anna Burford did well as Magdalena, and only Raymond Very as Walther was disappointing. His voice lacked youthful energy and did not come over well in the huge Albert Hall, though on the BBC recording the microphone seems to have picked up his voice far better. In close-up on the television he looked fine, if a little old for the part, but in the Hall his little white beard and poor posture made him look like a middle-aged version of Beckmesser.
The orchestra of less than seventy players, apart from some extra brass in the second part of Act III, produced big sounds when necessary yet managed to feel almost like a chamber orchestra at times. The chorus was magnificent, and witnessing Meistersinger in the Albert Hall with these performers was an uplifting experience. For such a feast of music one really wants the dynamic range afforded by a large auditorium, and I applaud The Proms for their first performance of this opera.
This was a simply glorious occasion. I was lucky enough to be in the stalls, level with the principals’ area, and the orchestra was a joy to listen to, and see. They produced a wonderful sound and musical performance – I recall no blemish. The direction from Lothar Koenigs was inspiring. The principals were also excellent – a great team working so comfortably together. Christopher Purves was a hugely entertaining Falstaff at Glyndebourne last year, and I had to double check names (that it was the same person) when I heard him sing the Bass Arias in a period orchestra performance of the St Matthew passion in March this year.
Of course, Terfel graced WNO by his presence (because he could get home between performances, I think?) and his was a commanding performance. I haven’t mentioned the Chorus – they were fabulous, negotiating the complex street riot scene with ease and producing a stunning sound at the end.
As a keen opera goer, I thought I would regret not making it to a staged performance, but this occasion showed me that concert performances are capable of being completely engaging and enlightening, in a different way.
I can look back on certain golden occasions (Julia Varady in Mahler 8 … I could go on) – and this will certainly be one of them. In fact two glorious days of Proms – the 1st night perfomance of Mahler 8 was wonderful too !
You are right: Bryn Terfel so good!