RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Hans Sachs - Gerald Finley (bass-baritone)
Walther - Marco Jentzsch (tenor)
Eva - Anna Gabler (soprano)
Madgalene - Michaela Selinger (mezzo)
David - Topi Lehtipuu (tenor)
Pogner - Alastair Miles (bass)
Beckmesser - Johannes Martin Kränzle (baritone)
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
David McVicar (director)
rec. live, Glyndebourne, June 2011
Picture: 16:9; Sound: LPCM Stereo, DTS 5.1 Surround; Region: 0 (worldwide)
OPUS ARTE OA1085D DVD [280:00]
This DVD captures the fulfilment of a dream. When John Christie founded the Glyndebourne festival it was his dream to put on the works of Wagner, but the scale of the enterprise defeated him and instead the house became closely associated with the works of Mozart instead. However, with the building of the new theatre new possibilities opened up. Glyndebourne’s first assault on Wagner was Tristan und Isolde, and phenomenally successful it was too. While this Meistersinger may be only the second Wagner opera they have staged, the work has a much longer history at the house than you might at first think. In fact, probably the first ever musical performance to take place at Glyndebourne was of Act 3, Scene 1 of Meistersinger, featuring Christie and some of his friends, something dealt with in some bonus films, and he would no doubt be delighted that his ambition has finally been accomplished so triumphantly on the stage.
David McVicar’s production updates the setting to post-Napoleonic Germany. It adds a little more logic to the business about “false, foreign rule” in the final scene - this was, after all, the period where the German states were trying to reassert themselves after a long period of French domination - and it gives plenty of opportunities for Biedermeier-style costumes which look very handsome. The chief feature of the set is a stone canopy and set of vaulted arches that first appear as the walls and ceiling of St Catherine’s church and then show up in every scene. They work well in the church and as Sachs’ home, but they inhibit the expanse of the outdoor scenes. The pageant of Act 3 feels a bit closed in, and the street scene of Act 2 is a lot less inviting than it would have been without this constraint. Still, McVicar’s strength has always been in his direction of individuals, and there is a lot to delight the eye here. Each figure in his vision seems to have their own character and plenty of individuals stick out as interesting in the crowd scenes. Each of the Masters is a distinctly different person, and the various performers or merry-makers at the pageant are lovely to watch and enjoy. Other little touches help to enliven different aspects too, such as the raucous dance of the Apprentices, endearing but cheekily irreverent at the same time, or the way the Masters all link arms in unity at the climax of the peroration in the final scene. For once, furthermore, the Act 2 riot looks like a proper fight rather than a choral society night out. It’s the kind of production where you wish your eye had more freedom to wander around (and, truth be told, the cameraman’s choice of lingering on certain details does get a little frustrating at times when you would, perhaps, prefer to focus on other things) but it means that there is plenty that will reward repeated viewing and there is a great deal that any viewer will find rewarding.
The singer that attracted most of the attention in the original staging was Gerald Finley, whose Sachs is both a revelation and a triumph. His is a younger portrayal of the role than you might expect to see - no grizzled old veteran, more a man just into middle age - but this, if anything, underlines the poignant aspects of his existence. During the Act 3 prelude we see him tenderly contemplating a portrait of, presumably, his late wife and children, and in various other aspect of this scene McVicar’s direction hints at the deep unhappiness that underpins his character. Finley himself sings the role with gloriously lyrical tone, as mellifluous and beautiful as assumption of the part as any you will find on disc. The Fliedermonolog of Act 2 is a particular highlight, glowing with nocturnal warmth as his voice gently caresses the orchestral line, and he shows no hint of tiredness as the opera progresses so that his delivery of the final oration on Holy German Art is every bit as beautiful as his singing from hours before. He may not have the rugged authority or gravitas of Thomas Stewart for Kubelik or Norman Bailey for Goodall and Solti, but he has the intelligence of José van Dam and Bernd Weikl and he could sing any of them off the stage for the sheer beauty of tone that he produces. His portrayal may be controversial for some old school Wagnerians, but I loved it and it is perhaps this that will keep me coming back to this set again and again.
Wonderful as Finley is, he is only one in a great ensemble. Topi Lehtipuu’s David oozes character and style, both impish and sympathetic, and conveying glorious tone together with humanity and humour. Alastair Miles’ Pogner conveys authority and paternal warmth at the same time: his Act 1 “address” is wonderful, especially the way he lingers on the climatic “Eva, mein einzig Kind”. Johannes Martin Kränzle’s Beckmesser is a triumph. He acts the role with just the right amount of caricature, injecting humour without being crude, and his treatment at the end of the pageant contains genuinely moving pathos. More importantly, his singing is a wonderful combination of the lyrical and the smarmy, and he is as close as I have seen to the ideal for this character. Michaela Selinger is a wonderful Madgalene and Anna Gabler’s Eva is bright, if a little shrill, and it’s a shame that she chickens out of her climactic high note at the end of her Act 2 dialogue with Sachs. Both ladies add character and charm, though, and the black-voiced Mats Almgren makes an ideal Nightwatchman. The only real problem, and unfortunately it is a serious one, is Marco Jentzsch’s Walther. He sounds fine in the first act, even if the nasal quality of his voice makes him stick out in the overall blend, but he tires noticeably as the opera progresses, and the scenes where he dictates the prize song are something of a trial for the listener. He just about recovers for the final scene, but he lacks the warmth and beauty of, say, Sándor Kónya or, best of all, Ben Heppner on both CD and DVD.
Jurowski conducts the score with certainty and skill, and the LPO respond with playing that is warm and utterly dedicated. Both are helped by the intimate acoustic of the theatre which brings everything close to the ear, meaning that there is never any need to force or insist on a phrase. Instead everything unfolds with unhurried purpose and an element of clarity, even transparency, that you seldom associate with this work. That said, the DTS surround sounds is captured in a rather idiosyncratic manner. The centre speaker is reserved pretty much exclusively for the singers so that, as you listen to the preludes of each act, nothing at all comes out of it. Likewise, you won’t hear the singers in any of the left or right speakers. It’s a little odd but, once you’ve made certain that your centre speaker isn’t on the blink, you’ll probably find your ear tuning into it and not noticing anything out of order.
When it was first produced this production was a predictable sell-out. Not only did it make its way into cinemas, but The Guardian even live-streamed it on its website, an innovation which has proved so popular that they repeated it on a larger scale the following year, and opera lovers the world over must hope they are going have this as a regular feature. This is how I first saw this production and I must admit that I had doubts then. Some, over the staging or over Jentzsch, remain, but there are so many aspects of this DVD that are so delightful, that it seems churlish to give it anything other than a warm and hearty recommendation. Rumour has it that Glyndebourne are planning on reviving the production for the composer’s bicentenary in 2013, though unless you’re on “the list” you stand little chance of securing a ticket. A DVD will always be second best, but this one is so good that it will always be much more than a consolation prize.
This DVD is so good that it will always be so much more than a consolation prize.