Finland Wagner Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Soloists, Finnish National Opera Chorus and Orchestra, Michael Güttler (conductor). Finnish National Opera, Helsinki, 25.3.2015. (GF)
Hans Sachs, Ralf Lukas
Veit Pogner, Jyrki Korhonen
Kunz Vogelgesang, Juha Riihimäki
Sixtus Beckmesser, Michael Kraus
Fritz Kothner,Jussi Merikanto
Balthasar Zorn,Hannu Jurmu
Ulrich Eisslinger,Jussi Salonen
Augustin Moser, Aki Alamikkotervo
Hermann Ortel,Hannu Forsberg
Hans Schwarz,Nicholas Söderlund
Hans Foltz,Koit Soasepp
Walther von Stolzing, Mika Pohjonen
Directed by Harry Kupfer
Sets by Hans Schavernoch
Costumes by Yan Tax
Lighting Design by Jürgen Hoffmann
Choreography by Derek Gimpel
It is impressive indeed that the Finnish National Opera is able to cast the colossal opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg almost entirely with domestic singers. True, two of the central roles were sung by international guests but there are excellent singers on the Helsinki roster who could have taken these roles too. Colossal refers not only to the size of the cast but also to the length of the opera. In the programme book the performance was scheduled to 5½ hours but in reality it clocked in at 5:20 thanks to Michael Güttler’s brisk tempos. In particular the second act moved forward very effectively – without sounding in the least hectic. I didn’t see the premiere, since it coincided with the Stockholm premiere of Otello, so this was the third performance and everything was perfectly settled.
Veteran director Harry Kupfer knows his Wagner inside-out and in cooperation with his singers he has chiselled out three-dimensional portraits of the leading characters. As he points out in the programme, several of the characters in this opera are more many-faceted than most opera roles. First and foremost Hans Sachs of course but the others also have a wide register of nuances in their personalities. He stresses Beckmesser who, in spite of his rigidity concerning the rules for the mastersingers, has many positive features. “He is, after all,” says Kupfer, “a wise man who is respected in Nuremberg and holds an important position.”
Kupfer’s regular set designer Hans Schavernoch has created a stage picture with a kind of ruin surrounded by metal scaffolding. In the background we catch a glimpse of a modern city. The ruin – my associations immediately went to the Gedächtniskirche in Berlin, destroyed by bombing during WW2 and still a ruin kept as a war memorial – seems to be under repair and the costumes suggest time to be just after the war. The building site is frequently rotated to create the various settings. Kupfer and Schavernoch make the most of the spectacular scenes. The tumultuous fight at the end of act II is a tour de force of movements, continually intensified until the Nightwatchman appears a second time and announces that it’s eleven o’clock and silence is resumed within no time at all. The third act final with processions, clowns, gigantic heads (is Richard Wagner himself taking part?) and you name it, is magnificent.
The singing is also worthy of the framework. Ralf Lukas, though small of stature, is touching Hans Sachs, younger-looking than most Sachs I have seen and thus closer in age to Eva than normally is the case. He is an expressive actor and singer and delivers his long and taxing solos with unerring security. Considering the length of the role this is an achievement comparable to a marathon race and it’s no wonder that he is a bit worn at the finish.
The other guest, Michael Kraus, was last seen a few months ago as a splendid Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus. His Beckmesser is another triumph. He is such a marvellous actor and just seeing him in act III, aching all over after the fight the night before, sneaking into Sachs’ workshop to pinch Walther’s Prize Song, in a choreography masterly timed with the music, is alone worth the ticket cost. It goes without saying that he sings the role exquisitely as well.
Mika Pohjonen, the former Finnish Tango King, has steadily conquered the dramatic tenor roles during the last few years and his Walther is another feather in his now well-decorated cap. He sings gloriously throughout and crowns his achievement with a strong Prize Song. His tenor colleague Tuomas Katajala is an excellent David with lyric glow and elegant acting. Pogner is an ideal role for Jyrki Korhonen, whose black-tinted bass voice makes him a worthy follower to former generations of great Finnish basses: Kim Borg, Martti Talvela, Matti Salminen (still active of course) and Jaakko Ryhänen.
Tiina-Maija Koskela as Eva is a lively actress and sings well, not least in the quintet and Niina Keitel’s Magdalene can make nobody disappointed. Jussi Merikanto’s bureaucratic Kothner is also worth mentioning.
The National Opera’s chorus have of course a field day in this opera and the Wach auf chorus in the final scene, a tribute to Hans Sachs, is truly impressive. This new Meistersinger von Nürnberg is magnificent achievement.