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.