Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne: review
Yesterday I went to Glyndebourne and I am feeling very smug about it.
Not, as some might assume, because I am part of a rich elite who can afford access to high culture that other plebs can’t, but because I am a pleb and nevertheless managed to get in. For £20.
Getting a ticket for Glyndebourne involves roughly the same amount of effort and money as, say, locating a Siberian tiger. In fact, the latter is probably cheaper. So I was pleased with my £20 ticket – standing, admittedly, and with restricted view. But David McVicar’s staging of Meistersinger looks set to be one of the opera tickets of the year, if not the decade. So what’s a bit of leg ache?
I got the ticket through Glyndebourne’s excellent <30 scheme for the under 30s. Last year I managed to get a £30 seat in the stalls to see Hansel und Gretel and the previous year I paid the same for their brilliant The Fairy Queen. There’s no waiting list, just sign up on their website.
And so, on to the production. The opera tells the story of a song contest held in the guild of Mastersingers of Nuremberg. A member of the guild offers his daughter’s hand in marriage as the prize. The only problem is that she’s in love with a knight who isn’t a Mastersinger. (The whole sticky mess could have been avoided if the daughter, Eva, had been left to choose her own husband. But that would have been too simple. And too feminist.)
The London Philharmonic Orchestra, under Vladimir Jurowski, was on stunning form: they responded to each flick and tremor of the maestro’s baton with precision and tangible enthusiasm. This was an orchestra at the top of its game and there was some particularly fine horn playing.
But can you go to this, of all Wagner’s operas, and simply enjoy the music? David McVicar certainly thinks so – and his production encourages the audience to lay aside all the political and historical baggage that accompanies Meistersinger (see this excellent blog from Tom Service for more on this). The setting is a politically safe period around 1810 and the final paean to German art becomes less about cultural superiority and more a general celebration of art. Everywhere McVicar tones down distasteful elements – the final song (‘Even if the holy Roman empire/ Should dissolve in mist,/ For us there would yet remain/ Holy German art’) is sung without surtitles and the character Beckmesser – often regarded as an anti-semetic caricature – is pompous but essentially empathetic.
Partly this is thanks to the characterful, comic performance from Johannes Martin Kränzle who is an operatic Mr Collins, wooing Eva (Anna Gabler). Who is clearly far too young and evidently doesn’t like him anyway. The other stand-out performance is Gerald Finley’s in the lead role of Hans Sachs. Finley’s powerful baritone proved more than equal to the part and his Sachs, if slightly younger than usual, manages to convince as a pillar of the community.
McVivar’s staging has been criticised for being unadventurous. True, both costume and set are fairly naturalistic, but with an opera that is so rarely performed, why go for a Big Idea? Why not just stage the work elegantly and simply – as was done here.
Finally, I will add that despite the length of Meistersinger (4hr with a fair wind), my legs only began to ache in the last 15 mins as there is a convenient bar to lean on. Jolly good show all round, Glyndebourne. Shame about the weather – see to that for next year will you?