Posts Tagged ‘ Glyndebourne ’

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?

Is Classical Music Relevant: Cambridge Union debate, Stephen Fry and Kissy Sell Out

“The idea that classical music is the province of white-wigged old farts shows a failure of imagination and rank snobbery.”

Thus spake Stephen Fry at a debate in Cambridge last night on the relevance of classical music to today’s youth. His adversaries included Kissy Sell-Out, Radio 1 DJ and critic Greg Sandow. But it was Stephen “dub-step is my life” Fry who stole the show – and indeed won the debate (365 to 57, 88 abstentions). As someone embarking on a career as a classical music journalist I’m obviously pleased with the result, but much of the debate was depressing.

Classical Music

White-wigged old fart?

Over and over the genre was called “elitist”, snobby, exclusive, out of touch. Yet only yesterday morning I was musing with my pianist and conductor house mate as to whether now was the best possible time to be a classical musician – or indeed spectator.

London alone has a healthy clutch of symphony orchestras performing music from Puccini to Pärt, Tippet to Turner, every evening. And there are chamber ensembles across the country, constantly experimenting, performing contemporary music and attracting new audiences. The classical music scene is vibrant, exciting and full of incredibly talented people.

Nor is it fair to call the classical music world elitist. Opera houses and concert halls are busting their gut strings to show young people that the door is open, there are comfy seats waiting for them and –look – you don’t even have to wear a suit.

This summer I will be going to the Glyndebourne opera festival for the second time in as many years. Last year my ticket was £30, this year it is £20 – both special deals for the under 30s. And the OAE are forever throwing late night events with tickets for just £5 – which always seem to sell out. Thanks to these initiatives, classical concerts are full of young people just enjoying the music and, rare from worrying about it’s relevance, they are simply thankful that for a few brief moments, they are transported away from worries about exams, boyfriends, school gangs, fashion, essays or emails. It’s just them and the music.

Why this concern over relevance anyway? Why can’t classical music just be enjoyable, moving, terrifying, thrilling, transcendental, beautiful, staggering, heart-breaking, cheeky, humorous, thought-provoking or threatening? Pop music may use the language of the young, refer to Twitter, video games and clubs but it is the toilet paper of the music world: a one-use item. It is relevant today, gone tomorrow. Classical music, by contrast, is vellum – it might take a bit of blood to produce, but will be around long after the toilet paper has disintegrated.

The brilliant Benjamin Grosvenor (very much not wearing a white wig)

And the, ahem, toilet paper

The whole debate will be available to view at

Hänsel und Gretel, Glyndebourne: review

Cond: Robin Ticciati
Dir: Laurent Pelly

In a land far far away, hidden among tall trees and glistening lakes, there sits a magnificent castle. Each year the ancient doors swing open to welcome princes and princesses from across the land. Glyndebourne is in fairytale mood.

This production of Laurent Pelly’s Hänsel und Gretel may be a revival (from 2008) but it still manages to be light and fresh. Every hint of darkness has been dispelled: this is the Grimm tale sanitised, though no less enjoyable for that.

Lydia Teuscher’s Gretel is a wide-eyed, joyful sprite of a child whose strong and beautiful soprano is enchanting. Mezzo, Alice Coote, as protective brother Hänsel, brilliantly captures the young boy’s naivety and irrepressible appetite – both for life and food. The pair’s rendition of the famous hymn-like evening prayer is a moment of exquisite peace and calm. Pelly’s staging for the duet is beautifully simple, as brother and sister crouch for shelter beneath a fallen tree trunk: the picture of vulnerability.

Although only on stage for a matter of minutes, Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s witch is something you can’t forget in a hurry. Fat, hairy, bald and truly disgusting, this witch wears a coat smeared with blood, has hair growing from her belly button and licks the cage in which she keeps Hänsel.

Disgusting, yes, but Ablinger-Sperrhacke’s witch doesn’t so much terrify as tickle. Similarly, the often sinister Sandman (Tara Erraught) is a kind spirit under Pelly’s direction and Ida Falk Winland’s prim dew fairy looks to have walked straight out of a disinfectant advert. Elsewhere, Irmgard Vilsmaier and William Dazeley make a good double act as the mother and father.

Humperdinck’s music ranges from cartoon-creepy to bright-eyed clarity. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Robin Ticciati, brings out each tone: the horns, who open the opera, are particularly fine, instantly transporting the audience from a country house in East Sussex to the magical wood of the opera.

As always with a Glyndebourne production, the set deserves a review of its own. But in brief, Barbara de Limburg Stirum’s design is ingenious as well as eloquent. Hänsel and Gretel’s house is a giant cardboard box – perpetually threatening to collapse, while the witch’s house is a giant supermarket display. Stirum’s design not only looks good enough to eat but is fully integrated in the action: although something of a departure from the traditional tale, her set enhances the opera and never needlessly distracts.

Even in a fairytale, not everything is perfect. The opening scene could have done with a touch more zing and Hänsel and Gretel’s dream of angels became, oddly, twenty or so children dressed in white, eating hamburgers. But overall, this is a production which captures the everyday joys, fears and excitement of being little and re-awakens the child in us all.

Hänsel und Gretel runs at Glyndebourne until 28 August.