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Sachs appeal

Opera’s Scottish enfant terrible David McVicar has applied his considerable skills in this 2011 Glyndebourne production of Die Meistersinger, the result being a refreshing new take on a familiar warhorse. The setting has been updated from medieval Nuremburg to vaguely Victorian, which is, of course, when Wagner would have been, like the character David, in his apprenticeship, and the costumes have a certain “Nicholas Nickleby” feeling.  

This updating neither helps nor hurts the general performance. Although some old-timers who like their Meistersinger with plenty of medieval trappings might be dissapointed, this production tends to de-emphasize the “Deutsches Reich und Kunst” aspect of the work. Special commendation must be given to lighting designer Paule Constable who bathes the stage in warm autumnal tones, especially effective in Sach’s workroom scenes.

Glyndebourne’s casting tends to be youthful and attractive throughout—no 50 years old Heldentenors playing romantic leads here. Gerald Finley is superb as Hans Sach, a real thinking man’s singer with a melliflous bass baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau spliced with a velvety Mario Sereni.

He plays Sachs as a still youthful broad-shouldered vigorous man who looks like he could handle rough shoe leather all day yet still has the intellectual heft to be a great song crafstman as well. Finley’s Sachs even has a certain sex appeal (he’s physically sort of a handsome bear) which tends the skew the sexual chemistry of the piece, one feels he could have easily won Eva’s hand if he wasn’t such an honorable man. Overall, a highly moving performance, he is the compleat singing actor.

Next up for vocal honors is Finnish tenor Topi Lehtipuu as David who has real stage presence, a bit of a scene stealer, actually a sweet melliflous tenor and blonde good looks, he is totally convincing as a boy apprentice David . Johannes Martin Kranzle is a highly effective Beckmesser, eschewing a cartoonish version of the role in favor of a sly caricature, with plenty of voice as well.

As the lovers German soprano Anna Gabler provides an attractive lyric approach and is also a real looker, one can easily imagine all the attention Eva gets. There also seems to be real sexual tension between Eva and Sachs in this production, a geniune love triangle, which is not always the case.

Her Walther, Marco Jentsch is less successful. Perhaps roles like Nemorino or the Duke of Mantua would be a better fit for his a lyric tenor voice lacking in Wagnerian heft.He has an endearing boyishness about him but lacks the nobility inherent in a knight.

Michaela Selinger as Magdalene and Alistair Miles as Pogner fill out the cast nicely.

Conductor Vladimir Jurowski leads an excellent London Philharmonic and the Glydenbourne Chorus is in fine fettle. Overall, the production is excellently paced and one tends to forget it’s actually an almost five hour event.

Guilty confession:  this is the first Meistersinger I’ve sat all the way through. I was first exposed as a student in Boston to a Met touring production and was unable to stay riveted in my seat, this was in the bad old days before surtitles.  For this DVD I remained involved throughout.


  • Clita del Toro says:

    Oh, too bad about the Walther. This looks like a DVD I’d like to buy, but I’d like to hear the Walther first. The production looks marvelous.

    • louannd says:

      No you don’t. Really.

    • Regina delle fate says:

      Bill -- nice review but “Opera’s Scottish enfant terrible”? He may have been something like that 20 years ago but nowadays “Sir” David McVicar is the last word in establishment conservatism among his generation of opera directors. The clue is in the knighthood -- why has this 40-something director got one, when older and, one might say, even more distinguished British directors -- David Pountney, Richard Jones, Graham Vick -- haven’t? The answer, in all probability, is that his stagings do nothing to frighten people who paid £200 a ticket at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne -- and this “chocolate-box” Meistersinger is a pretty good example of that.

  • Orlando Furioso says:

    It would be a shame, I think, to bypass this performance on account of the Walther. Yes, he doesn’t really sustain it vocally (though I can imagine that he auditioned impressively in short excerpts — he isn’t ungifted or unmusical, just not enough for this demanding part), and I would never want to suggest that the singing isn’t important. But this is an example of the well-rehearsed and -prepared Glyndebourne ensemble approach at its best: everyone interacts and responds to each other so completely, that it all feels unexpectedly real and moving, and I can accept a less-than-ideal tenor as the inevitable imperfection that’s bound to lurk somewhere, and not a fatal lack.

    Actually, the scene in which Sachs gets Walther to create his Morning Song, both of them taking in what the other says and thinking about it before responding, felt so unexpectedly real (sorry to overuse that word, but it applies) that it moved me almost more than any of the other scenes, wonderful as they were. It’s never brought a tear to my eye before.

    And Finley, against expectation, is a real Sachs. Ironically the preview embedded here preserves just about his only raspy note in the whole show. I suppose one ought to wonder how he’ll sound in it 5 years from now (thinking back to the Bernd Weikls etc. who also started out well as Sachs), but I didn’t hear anything that sounded less than centered and “complete” vocally, and his acting is equally full and alive. This is quite an achievement all around. I’ve seen a lot of Meistersingers, some with bigger stars, but this is the first time I’ve really been pulled inside the opera, stopped “evaluating” and just felt it.

    • Clita del Toro says:

      Orlando, you have convinced me! I will order the DVD. I do have a Meistersinger DVD from Bayreuth that I don’t care for very much. I really love this opera.

      • Regina delle fate says:

        Clita -- I’d also recommend you to seek out the 1980s Wolfgang Wagner production from Bayreuth -- it’s ultra traditional but beautiful and with a cast of unusually young singers -- Häggander, Jerusalem, Weickl -- who may not be Meistersinger legends, but they are visually absolutely convincing, and Hermann Prey’s Beckmesser -- the most beautifully sung I’ve ever heard, and funny as well -- is a classic.

        Another you might like to try is the Götz Friedrich Berlin production with Gösta Winbergh’s golden-toned Stolzing. For Friedrich, this is quite traditional, too, but it’s an intelligent staging.

    • manou says:

      “…this is an example of the well-rehearsed and -prepared Glyndebourne ensemble approach at its best: everyone interacts and responds to each other so completely, that it all feels unexpectedly real and moving”. This is so perfectly right that I saw this production without Finley and still though the whole thing excellent (in a season where I also went to the Jones production in Wales with Terfel as Sachs, and to the Graham Vick production at Covent Garden).

    • wenarto says:

      great writing Orlando…one thing that makes me not yet convinced is the ceiling on the stage….I want to have a high ceiling or open air situation…that curved things making me feeling a bit enclosed.

    • Porgy Amor says:

      I have not had a chance to sit with the whole 280-minute performance yet — I hope to do so over the weekend — but my spot-checking suggests that Orlando Furioso has a “well-formed beak.” I agree about both the Walther and the performance generally.

      Bear in mind that I have found all of the other DVDs of this opera lacking for one reason or another, so if I decide that this new Glyndebourne goes straight to the top, I will wish I were giving higher praise. The Met’s is good to listen to, but I wish Levine would step livelier (it sounds gorgeous, but it seems to do so for a whole day), and Heppner as usual is diffident in character, as though he’d rather be doing the concert version.

      I do wish Marco Jentsch at Glyndebourne were better. I was surprised, frankly, that his reviews (the ones I read at the time) were not worse. He sounds to be operating on the very edge much of the time; the top is under pressure and very cautiously managed, and if the sounds I am hearing in stray notes in ascent are not cracks, I would not know what else to call them. He’s not a complete write-off. He’s a plausible figure on stage, he interacts well with the others, he can engage with the role in terms of shaping the lines and addressing the dynamics with some care. But there are so many tense moments where, even though it’s a commercial recording, you (or, in any event, *I*) fear he’s not going to wriggle out of a jam this time. This is the worst part of listening to a singer who is overmatched if you’re basically a nice person.

  • Ilka Saro says:

    I’ve only heard Finley once at the Met (he sang well in a painfully bad production of Don Giovanni). I know Finley mostly from recording, and he records very beautifully, to my ear. The too-brief little clip here seems no exception! Very tempting. I wish Netflix had a better opera selection.

  • papopera says:

    McVicar is updating the story, he knows better than Wagner. Who does he think he is ? How insulting to the Hohenzollerns or…were they the Wittelsbachs.

  • rcfgodoy says:

    About this:
    “Special commendation must be given to lighting designer Paule Constable who bathes the stage in warm autumnal tones, especially effective in Sach’s workroom scenes.”

    Doesn’t the action take place in late June?

  • Orlando Furioso says:

    Porgy Amor, your reaction to Jentsch isn’t wrong, yet I would respectfully suggest that in according him a big paragraph, without any mention of all the excellences, you’ve created a wrong impression. I hope you can experience the whole thing soon, and let it sink in.

    Wenarto, I guess we all have our individual deal-breakers, and it’s a personal matter. But I personally have trouble imagining the use of a ceiling (as part of the unit set) being the one unacceptable point in a production this good. (It’s actually most problematic, I find, in the Act II street setting, where one has to imagine an arched colonnade on a side street. But I have no problem with the other three locations.)

    I would imagine the word “autumnal” to be a simple description of a certain shade of light — the action hasn’t been reset from summer.

    • Loge says:

      I was just happy that I knew the date on which the action takes place. The word autumnal didn’t bother me. There are a lot of operas that take place on that date.

    • Porgy Amor says:

      OF: I didn’t mention the other excellences because I agreed with your report on them, and you have seen the whole performance. However, the Walther was also under discussion, and I had sampled enough of Walther’s music to say in some detail what I found problematic about Jentsch. He is a weakness but not (for me) a deal-breaker.

      I would want this for Jurowski’s conducting alone, without even getting into the attractions of the production and a cast that otherwise seems well chosen for their assignments in such a setting as Glyndebourne, and in the case of Finley’s Sachs potentially quite special.

      Now I will shut up until I have the five hours to firm up those impressions.

  • 1003 says:

    hi, this is my first comment, but I’ve been a avid follower of this site for quite some time.
    As lovely as this opera is, up until almost the end,
    I felt a chill down on my spine when the Deutchland and
    pure kunst part began. Even if I haven’t got a detailed knowledge on his ideological tendency, could tell immediately why he has been an inspiration to third reich. And after that initial viewing, I always skip the part. It would be interesting how they dealt with this problematic sequence. Though reading a subtitles alone makes me wince. (I am not even Jewish.)

  • Byrnham Woode says:

    I never found anything objectionable in Sachs’ “controversial” address at the end of the opera. He is saying that a nation is remembered for its arts and culture, and that if Germans don’t honor and protect that culture it will disappear. Every country believes something like that. Of course, Wagner gets a bit portentious here with the music, but he still isn’t seeing in to the future and the awful associations his work was put to.

    As for stereotypes, look at all the fun Shakespeare has with the Scots, Irish, Welsh and French in HENRY V.

  • Gerald Findley is not short of being a hot bear, he is already there. I would have no problems throwing him around a room or 2

  • danpatter says:

    This is truly a wonderful Blu-Ray disc. Finley is completely winning as Sachs -- a bewitching performance and, you’re right, you can see Eva actually considering this guy. I wasn’t bothered too much by the strangulated top of the Walther, the voice is pretty enough and rather more appealing than a lot of heldentenors. The Beckmesser is a total delight (he looks like Nathan Lane in a bad wig), as is the Pogner, who looks for all the world like Paul Ford as Mayor Shinn in THE MUSIC MAN. complete with mutton chops. Very interesting and entertaining production, but top honors really do go to Finley.

  • Orlando Furioso says:

    Ha, danpatter! I absolutely get the Mayor Shinn comparison, and that’s hilarious!

    Speaking of hilarity and Beckmesser: though I appreciate the development in the last couple of decades of treating Beckmesser as a three-dimensional character and not a cartoon, and having him cast with a front-rank baritone (Prey, Allen, Schmidt, Opie)… I do miss the comedic touch brought to him by the likes of Evans. And a fair number of carefully timed gags and and even vaudevillian double-takes seem actually written into the libretto and score. So I was pleased to see McVicar noticing this and (even in this generally realistic production) re-incorporating that element into the character. Nicely done.