Posts Tagged ‘ Gerald Finley ’

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.

Wagner GlyndebourneBut 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?

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Anna Nicole the opera – a BRAvura performance

Anna NicoleThe real Anna Nicole

As I took my seat for the very first public preview of ‘Anna Nicole’, I noticed something was different in the Royal Opera House. In place of the usual lion and unicorn on the stage curtain there were two bikini-clad body builders. And the Royal shield had been replaced with a laughing picture of the opera’s eponymous character – Anna Nicole Smith. Usually red with gold embroidery, the curtains were now pink with a border of pouting lips. She would have loved this, I thought.

On Saturday morning, the ROH allowed a small audience – mostly students –in for a rehearsal/run-through of their much-talked-about new work. With music from Mark-Anthony Turnage – who passes for a bad boy, as classical composers go – and a libretto from Richard Thomas (of Jerry Springer the Opera fame), Anna Nicole was never going to be a low-key affair. And unsurprisingly the press have loved the story so far – playboy model, billionaire’s wife, drug addict…opera.

Royal Opera House Anna Nicole

Eva-Maria Westbroek

The singer tasked with bringing this unorthodox life to the stage is Eva-Maria Westbroek. And she is brilliant. She has nailed the Texas drawl (nice is “nahce”; life, “lahfe”) and manages to make Anna silly but sympathetic. The first time we see her she is reclining in a giant gold armchair. She leans forward and whisper-sings the words “I wanna blow you all…I wanna blow you all…a kiss.” Which sets the tone for what follows.

Richard Thomas’ libretto is shocking – as you might expect from one of the creators of Jerry Springer the Opera – but it is also very funny and moving in places. This is a nice clean, family blog, so I’m not going to repeat the x-rated phrases, but suffice it to say that I was shocked – and I’ve studied 17th-century pornography. One aria sung by Anna is entirely made up of different words for breasts. And just when you think Thomas has exhausted the possibilities, another ten ring out in Westbroek’s rich soprano before declaring to her plastic surgeon “Supersize me!”

Everything about this production is over the top – but it had to be. How else could a stage show have hoped to recreate Anna Nicole Smith’s firework of a life? She came from the poorest of the poor, married one of the richest men in the world, had ENORMOUS breasts and died young of a drugs overdose. Subtlety is not what is called for.Anna Nicole Smith opera

But you never feel that the opera is laughing at her. Yes, she’s a bit dippy, yes, she clearly married for money. But Turnage and Thomas make Anna Nicole into a resourceful woman: not proud of her life choices, but not seeing any alternatives. As she sings: “I made some bad choices, some worse choices and then ran outta choices”. She is more a victim of circumstance than anything more sinister.

The baddy, in this version of the tale (and as the characters keep stressing, this is only one version), is her lawyer, Stern, played without lazy caricature by Gerald Finley. The entire cast are excellent (and this was only a rehearsal!) but Alan Oke as Anna Nicole’s billionaire husband, J Howard Marshall II, is particularly funny. His entrance is one of the production’s stand-out moments (I won’t spoil it…)

Most importantly though, there is nothing mawkish or voyeuristic about Turnage’s opera. It doesn’t feel like wealthy, opera-goers gawping at a young woman’s car crash life – which it could so easily have been. Instead, we get a wry, witty look at the lure of money, fame and the American dream. Sure, it’s rude – the lap dancers redefine the term flexible and the f word is splattered like [rude simile censored] across the score. But Turnage and Thomas have created an opera which takes a hard look at greed, morality, poverty and ambition – Anna Nicole’s life is just the vehicle.