Tonight's fluid interpretation of the overture set the scene for this dynamic and convincing production. It was a revelation to play Die Meistersinger as a German comic opera, it solves the problem of how to deal with Wagner's masterwork which was misappropriated by the Nazis. The justification is certainly there in the text and in the music, the programme gives additional justification based on Wagner's notes. Not playing the overture (or any of the music) as a storm-trooper march allows an interpretation based on Wagner's careful study of small-town politics and one of his most human stories.
Die Meistersinger is one of those operas for which there is never going to be a perfect ensemble of soloists and a perfect production and a convincing interpretation. This production comes pretty close and certainly sent us back out to the rain and wind of a stormy January night in Covent Garden after a thrilling, enjoyable and uplifting experience.
Kasper Holton, Director of Opera, came out in front of the tabs at the start of the evening to say that Peter Coleman-Wright
had lost his voice but that he would appear to act the part of Beckmesser, which Christopher Purves would sing from the position of a music stand in front of the OP Proscenium arch. This alone saved the show but the double act developed during the performance even allowing Peter Coleman-Wright to exaggerate his characterisation to greater effect than had he been singing.
Royal Opera's production of Die Meistersinger was particularly good as the conductor and production and the acting and singing of the soloists were all aiming for the German comic opera interpretation. I got the feeling that the lute benefitted from a bit of electronic reinforcement, and also maybe sometimes some or all of the woodwind. On the other hand we also had on-stage brass and percussion.
The final scene of Act 3 brought on stage wave after wave of small-town guild members and brilliantly performed the function of an operatic ballet. Very soon there were well over 150 persons on stage, including the acrobats, drummers and trumpets. It's the first time I've come away from the Royal Opera House with temporary ear ringing! Richard Hudson's design has not a lot of fixed scenery, he achieves the changes with the huge number of extras functioning as "moving scener". The shift to German comic opera is represented by exaggerated cod-pieces rather than lederhose.
The tender moments worked too: Eva (Emma Bell) was particularly divine in the famous quintet in Act 3. Not that she has the choice, but she would do better to go off with David (Toby Spence) than Walter von Stolzing (Simon O'Neill).
There is still the problem of the very last scene. Hans Sachs (Wolfgang Koch) played it as an interpretation of how the historical Hans Sachs would have played it, it's now seat-squirmingly uncomfortable but that is historical fact. Much better to let the audience decide than to censor it. The whole point is that we are now free to enjoy a performance which gets back to the roots of the piece.
I've enjoyed Die Meistersinger on recordings since seeing the 1983 revival at Covent Garden, tonight's performance will send me back to my CDs and those bulky scores until the next opportunity for the treat of a real perfomance.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
The Royal Opera
Original lighting design
Walter von Stolzing
Royal Opera Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House