Mixed Bag of a Mastersingers

SwitzerlandSwitzerland   Wagner: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg   Soloists, Chorus of the Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich, conducted by Sebastian Weigle, Zurich Opera, Zurich. 10.11.2013. (JR)Meistersinger_Judith Schlosser_019 (1)

Eva,  Emma Bell
Magdalene,  Anna Goryachova
Hans Sachs, Jan-Hendrik Rootering
Walther von Stolzing,  Roberto Sacca
Veit Pogner, Guido Jentjens
Sixtus Beckmesser, Martin Gantner
David, Michael Laurenz
Konrad Nachtigall, Kresimir Strazanac
Kunz Vogelsang, Martin Zysset
Fritz Kothner, Cheyne Davidson
Balthasar Zorn, Fabio Trümpy
Ulrich Eisslinger, Andreas Winkler
Augustin Moser, Johannes Dunz
Hermann Ortel,  Dimitry Pkhaladze
Hans Schwarz, Christoph Seidl
Hans Foltz, Tomasz Slawinski
Nightwatchman, Erik Anstine

Conductor, Sebastian Weigle
Producer, Harry Kupfer
Set, Hans Schavernoch
Costumes, Yan Tax
Lighting, Jürgen Hoffmann
Chorus, Ernst Raffelsberger
Choreography, Derek Gimpel [/table]

This revival follows last season’s very successful première and brings back Roberto Sacca as Stolzing and Martin Gantner as Beckmesser. British soprano Emma Bell replaces Juliane Banse as Eva, Jan-Hendrik Rootering steps in for the hitherto announced Albert Dohmen as Hans Sachs.

The production by Harry Kupfer is set in post-War Nuremberg. On stage throughout the opera are the ruins of the Katharinenkirche, which was virtually destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945 and has remained a ruin ever since. Set designer Hans Schavernoch places scaffolding around the ruins to signify that rebuilding is to take place. In Act I the church ruins are of course perfect for the scene in the church, but in Act II one struggles to imagine the courtyard and half-timbered houses outside Hans Sachs’ house and in Act III it is transformed into an open-air amphitheatre for the Festwiese scene. It all works, more or less, apart from in the more intimate scenes; the height of the scaffolding is used to advantage to place additional brass high up for their fanfares at the Festwiese. On the back screen there is initially the medieval skyline of Nuremberg, by Act II cranes appear to show the city being rebuilt, by Act III Nuremberg has been rebuilt even though the giant skyscrapers resemble Frankfurt or New York rather than present-day Nürnberg where skyscrapers have been outlawed in the centre of town to preserve the (re-built) medieval look. The final Festzug scene was its usual riot of colour with some grotesque giant Carnival figures for added comic interest.

Vocally, this was a mixed bag of a Meistersinger. Quite why Jan-Hendrik Rootering was brought in to replace Albert Dohmen as Hans Sachs is a mystery; he is a seasoned Wagnerian but his voice is now dry, often not loud enough to ride the orchestra, and he simply came over as tired. Wooden acting and blank expression, his lack of any characterisation left one unconnected; it was in very stark contrast to Michael Volle’s human and moving interpretation at the première. Young British soprano Emma Bell appeared nervous for much of the opera; her Act III aria to Hans Sachs was however most touchingly and beautifully sung and her voice is right for the role. Roberto Sacca as Walther von Stolzing however looked and sounded, at first, as though he had stepped in from another opera. Whilst the populace of Nuremberg (and the Masters) wear 1950s suits and dresses, he dons a long brown leather coat and cowboy boots for Act I, and an open white shirt and casual black trousers for the other Acts and, even though he is supposed to have to come to town from the Franconian countryside, he does not look like a Knight of any sort and the brown leather coat brought the Nazi era to mind. His make-up seemed to have gone wrong in Act I, he looked jaundiced; but this was put right in what seemed an exceptionally long interval. Whilst Sacca hits all the top notes, his style is rather Italianate with much vibrato at times. Wisely he held back in the early Acts and had enough power in reserve to impress in his final rendition of the Preislied.

Guido Jentjens as Pogner was very fine, not quite as sonorous as Matti Salminen at the première. Michael Laurenz was an absolutely perfect David, both singing and acting were top notch. In the body of the Masters, Cheyne Davidson stood out as a bumbling Fritz Kothner, the part suits his strong voice. All the other Masters fitted in admirably. Anna Goryachova as Magdalene was a firm mezzo though I thought her slit-skirt costume in Act III was something out of a 1970s TV game show.

Erik Anstine as the Nightwatchman resembled The Fool from Boris Godunov. He sang the start of his cameo role below the notes, a pity as he acted the drunk with aplomb.

And that leaves the vocal (and acting) star of the show: Martin Gantner as Beckmesser. His diction crisp, his intonation spot-on, his comedic talents evident, this was a perfect rendition of the role. Dressed in a light grey pin-striped suit, he attracted pity and laughter in equal measure, but without any caricature. There was a nice final touch, when Sachs shakes his hand, leaving Beckmesser to slope off rather than have to witness more of the celebrations.

The chorus impressed throughout, making a full sound with a relatively small body of voices. In the fight scene, a few (Nazi?) thugs appeared in black leather and were beaten up by the populace in pyjamas (carrying music scores).

The perfectly paced overture and Act III Prelude had been audibly well rehearsed and the orchestra gave of their best throughout, especially the brass, harp and lute. Sebastian Weigle, who has by all accounts done great things at the Frankfurt Opera, conducted with vim but could not quite bring enough magic to this masterful opera.

John Rhodes





Leave a Comment