Glyndebourne’s revived Meistersinger

22 May

It’s five years since Glyndebourne first tried Meistersinger.  It was their most challenging show ever and one of their hottest tickets.  Interestingly, this revival, possibly because the first outing wasn’t a unanimous success, possibly because of the ticket prices and possibly because there are a lot of Meistersingers around at the moment, isn’t a sell out and, even on the first night on 21st May, there were a few empty seats.

This was a shame: it’s an interesting, worthwhile production with some very good performances indeed.  Overall, it improved on its first outing but I still had the nagging doubt as to whether this really is the right piece for Glyndebourne.  It feels as though it’s stretching the place beyond its limits and I missed the sheer exuberance and sense of space that you get in larger theatres.

The performance was centred round Gerald Finley’s outstanding Sachs.  The role stretches him to his limits and there were a couple of points in the last act where I wondered if he would last the course.  He did but you were aware that it was hard work. That aside, he made a fascinatingly complex Sachs: angry, thoughtful, someone who cared deeply and who might very well have married Eva.  It was a passionate, detailed reading, sung with his usual care for the words and in a way which managed the vocal demands pretty convincingly and completely identified with the character.  Surely this is the greatest performance of his career so far.

David McVicar’s amiable production is full of clear, detailed acting and an engagement with the text. He gets the social nuances really well- Beckmesser obviously sees himself as Sach’s superior.  The relationships are beautifully delineated, but it felt like a chamber production, constricted by the size of the space: a solution to  problem rather than something uniquely special: the riot seemed leaden, the festival cramped. Vicki Mortimer’s set looks good but the pillars that are used in every scene end up constricting.  Within these doubts, there’s lots to enjoy and the show looks as fresh as ever.

That may well be because, apart from Finley, Alastair Miles’s strong, paternal Pogner, the main roles were newly cast.  Jochen Kupfer made a younger than usual Beckmesser – very tall, very thin and with a high opinion of himself.  He was, if memory serves, more comic than his predecessor, deeply suspicious and wary of Sachs.  He struck me as having an excellent voice and it would be good to see him back.

Amanda Majewski was Eva, looking beautiful and singing lots of it very with clarity and beauty.  I found her personality a bit cold, almost manipulative (perhaps Eva’s like that).  Hannah Hipp was a very strong, warm Magdalene and David Portillo a really excellent David.  The latter strikes me as a major find – a strong, clear tenor and he conveued the character really strongly.

Casting Walther is always a problem and I don’t think Michael Schade was a perfect solution.  He sounded very stretched by the role, the sound wasn’t that pleasant and, as so often, you were puzzled by Eva’s infatuation with him.

As you would expect, the other roles were excellently done and the chorus sang outstandingly: the Wach Auf section being hugely satisfying.

Michael Güttler was a pretty late replacement for Robin Ticciati.  I enjoyed his clear, measured conducting.  You heard the details in the score and he had the LPO playing beautifully for him.  It was assured, confident conducting.  Maybe  it was a bit too measured: there were points when I was aware of how long this piece is and how wordy.  A bit more pace might have helped.

So it’s a very good evening and, if you have the money to throw about, it’s worth seeing for the insights it gives and, particularly for Finley, who lifts it above the ordinary.  It’s an intimate performance and is strong but, ultimately, it doesn’t convince you that Glyndebourne can do this repertory better than anyone else.

 

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