David McVicar met Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in Glyndebourne (***½)
MORE SUSSEX DOWNS THAN UPS AS MEISTERSINGER FAILS VOICE TEST
Stephen Langley waagde zich in de Sussex Downs en stuurde mij volgend verslag van Die Meistersinger in Glyndebourne :
What a delightful place coastal Southern England is in late Spring! Brighton and surrounding villages in the Sussex Downs exude charm and, to a large extent, money. With craft beer still on the march and the English cricket season well into its third month there can be few more agreeable pleasures than a round of golf in good company followed by an evening in a village tavern, downing a couple of pints and gorging on the local fish and chips. Add the televised cricket (infinitely more entertaining, even brutal, than baseball) and, for good measure, an evening at Glyndebourne and one’s Personal Satisfaction Index should be at an all-time high. Sadly, this time, my PSI took a nosedive. The performance of Meistersinger (direction: David McVicar; conductor: Michael Güttler) failed to hit the heights although, thankfully, Gerald Finley (Hans Sachs), was there to save the show.
Glyndebourne is deliciously situated amongst verdant pastures and rolling hills but a mere 30 minute car drive from Brighton. The best seats cost an awful lot of dosh so one goes expecting the best. My companion and I had well-placed seats in the Red Foyer but found that insufficient leg-room hampered blood circulation and led to a reduction in overall enjoyment. Conversation with fellow members of the audience confirmed that, even at jaw-dropping seat prices, there are some acoustic dead-spots in the auditorium. Perhaps this and/or an overhanging balcony explains why, at least to me, the orchestra sounded muffled particularly during the overture and generally lacked fire and inspiration. I noticed particular weakness in the brass section with several audible mistakes and lack of depth amongst the horns – altogether unforgivable for a Wagner production. I found myself wondering whether the orchestra was low on numbers.
The lack of conviction in the pit was matched by some unsettling vocal weaknesses made worse by inappropriate casting. I came away thinking that, in some way, there was a curious parallel between the performances on stage and the meal served during the second interval – generally bland (orchestra: crab and potato salad), wholly unsatisfactory (Michael Schade’s Stolzing: flaccid unhung fillet steak) but somehow redeemed (Finley: rhubarb dessert and the wines).
Finley’s portrayal is portrayal of a world-weary Sachs, widowed and bent-backed, was convincing. McVicar has got this characterization spot-on with Sachs a disappointed, even tormented figure living sadly alone in an untidy house (chaotic workbench, top-shelves overloaded, books everywhere). Badly in need of female company, Sachs evokes sympathy and compassion. In terms of plot, Sachs of course provides wisdom and reassurance stemming from worldly experience. In terms of this production, Finley provided the acting experience and vocal reassurance needed to balance striking weaknesses elsewhere in the cast. Thus Finley’s fine singing, hitting the right notes literally and metaphorically, contrasted with the rotund Schade who moved awkwardly around stage and, more critically, had manifest problems with breathing; this led to embarrassing difficulty during the various renderings of the Prize Song and an inability to reach or sustain high notes some of which were completely missed. In short, Schade neither looked nor sang the part. In my view too Amanda Majeski was seriously miscast as Eva - her warbling, timbre and excessive vibrato clearly more suited to Mozart and Strauss rather than Wagner. In this case, she looked the part but didn’t sing it. Of course, neither Stolzing nor Eva can be said to have major roles but these were serious weaknesses which impacted seriously on enjoyment of the opera as a whole. In addition to the Prize Song, the 3rd Act quintet – normally a highlight - was a seriously botched job.
In terms of the production itself, I found a few interesting parallels with Kurt Horres’ Brussels effort in 1985 – particularly in the second Act with a statue of Goethe (?) occupying Glyndebourne’s centre-stage in contrast to Brussel’s Johann Sebastian Bach. The Nuremberg 2nd Act back-drop of chimneys and houses, a charming element in Brussels, was nowhere to be seen in Glyndebourne leading to black hole nothingness at the rear of the stage. During the riot scene there seemed to be a marked lack of action or response at the rear of the stage with too many onlookers standing around in turgid passivity.
Other members of the cast members performed adequately. In this they were aided and abetted by a few amusing theatrical gags principally involving the lean and angular Beckmesser (e.g. tripping over a bench, unruly books, collapsing bookshelves and unstable singing rostrum all in Act 3) decently sung and acted by Jochen Kupfner. There were good cameo performances too from David Portillo (David) and Hanna Hipp (Magdalene).
My companion assures me that Glyndebourne audiences tend not to applaud too long. Last week the applause was warm for Finley and routine for other cast members. Decibel levels should not be the lead indicator for the excellence of operatic performance but, in this case, an uneven performance justified the less than wholehearted audience response.
Deze productie is ook te zien via streaming op 12 juli, evenwel in de versie van 2011