Sunday, 26 June 2016

High camp (Glyndebourne/Meistersinger)

Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Michael Güttler cond. London Philharmonic Orchestra at Glyndebourne)
It wasn’t a very nice day on Thursday. The rain saw picnicking under cover, which is a bubbly sort of fun. Obviously bubbles being the operative thing. The warmth of humanity gently compressed around the opera house. It seems unimaginable now.  All having a party. Champagne corks (Fortnum’s rather injudiciously had placed an advert in the FT on Friday advertising 25pc off champagne as something on which we could all agree). It was also St John’s Eve (23rd June) on which some of the action takes place. One of those joyful coincidences like Parsifal on Good Friday and Bohéme on Christmas eve
Die Meistersinger asks, and being Wagner attempts to answer, what is art? Or what makes a piece of art good? This is one of the big, fundamental but unanswerable questions. Glyndebourne’s revived Meistersinger gives it a big answer. This is their largest production and the final scene is enormous with perhaps 200 on stage. McVicar goes for a traditional, inoffensive production. This does much to add clarity to storytelling.  The stage itself was too cluttered at time. The big statue of Bach might have been a bit smaller for example, without in the least undermining what was being done. The bust of Wagner of Sachs’s table was rather a nice, cheeky nod. The costumes and set were gorgeous and sumptuous. The usually utterly reliable Paule Constable’s lighting here seemed rather off. The sunlight couldn’t possibly come in to Hans Sachs’s workshop like that given the street scene we had been shown. But it looked pretty. So style over substance there. What does that say about art? 
The light could simply not come in at that angle from the street scene previously.
Musically this was of the finest quality. Conductor Michael Güttler made sure that the LPO gave a sensible, measured account of the score which underpinned the drama onstage. This is a marathon and the work is pretty evenly shared out, other than Sachs and Walther. The star of the show was Gerald Finley returning to the role. Since he did it first in Sussex he’s become a star – perhaps an extraordinarily large fee paid to him was the cause of astonishing ticket prices (I doubt it, as that’s not how things are done there: singers who return are charmed rather than lured). Finley was an superb presence and continued to Walther (Michael Schade) as apprentice was impressive. Eva (Amanda Majeski) and Magdalene (Hanna Hipp)  gave decent performances too.
Beckmesser was played by Jochen Kupfer. The quality of his singing and acting is not in doubt, but the high camp, ministry of silly walks, and all the rest was tedious and too funny: this is light-hearted Wagner but it is not meant to be slapstick or Monty Python. That said all those rules do have a touch of the Python about them but it wasn’t in here that humour was inserted. Of course Wagner wrote (probably) feet of shelf space on the rules for what music and art should be and how it might function. His rules were a radical reimagining of what opera could be. Meistersinger isn’t, in that regard, on the same scale as Tristan or Parsifal or Ring. This is quite a conventional opera. It’s not Kupfer’s fault, but the funny walk as he left Sachs’s workshop was ludicrous. 

I think my favourite performance of the evening came from Patrick Guetti. The night watchman may be a small part, but it was sung in such a fine clear bass, that it was truly memorable. He’s on the list to seek out elsewhere.
This was an ensemble production. The huge numbers who swarmed the stage at various times made it so.  Movement was not always as clear as it might be. The best thing to would have been to cut it a little bit here and there. A trim on ticket prices (topping out at £300 – has anywhere in the UK charged that much before I wonder? Or anywhere other than Met Gala Fundraisers?) might be supported thus too, whilst making the thing a bit clearer. I think the effort of bringing it all together meant that the production never quite got round to saying what it had to say about art.

Overall: humour and crowding obscured storytelling, in a fun, musically-memorable evening. 

Creative team and select cast from website
Conductor Michael Güttler
Director David McVicar
Designer Vicki Mortimer
Choreographer Andrew George
Lighting Designer Paule Constable
Fight Director Nick Hall
Hans Sachs Gerald Finley
Walther von Stolzing Michael Schade
Eva Amanda Majeski
Beckmesser Jochen Kupfer
Pogner Alastair Miles
David David Portillo
Magdalene Hanna Hipp

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