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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

DVD Review: The Shoe Must Go On

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Glyndebourne.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Cobbler Hans Sachs (Gerald Finley (r.) tries to get some work done as
Beckmesser (Johann Martin Kränzle) warbles in Act II of
Die Meistersinger. Image from the Glyndebourne Festival © 2011 OpusArte.
This DVD performance (released on two discs or a single Blu-Ray by OpusArte) was shot in June 2011 at the Glyndebourne Festival. It is just the second Wagner opera to be performed at Glyndebourne following a 2003 Tristan und Isolde. (It marks a collaboration between this house, San Francisco Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago, who will mount this staging in February 2012.)The show features a youthful, energetic cast who exhibit a thorough dramatic involvement in this vast comedy, anchored by the Sachs of Canadian baritone Gerald Finley.

The camera work is excellent bringing the viewer surprisingly close to the citizens of dear old Nuremberg. (Sometimes, it's a little too intimate as the singers are captured in a very tight close-up that one would never get in the opera house.) The intrusive, roaming cameras capture the vital comic energy of Meistersinger, balancing the work's serious philosophy about the place of art in society with the comic, sometimes cruel hi-jinks that one expects from Wagner's Sachs.

Those qualities and more are present in this interpretation by Mr. Finley. The depth and intelligence of this interpretation comes out in the Flieder monologue, where the singer shows warmth of tone supported by a dark core in the voice that he has carefully developed in decades on the stage. He also shows himself up to the exertions of the Act II finale, singing (but not belting) in the Cobbling Song and using his talents as a comic actor to marvelous effect, even as he sets off a street riot.

All of Sachs' complexity and twisting emotions come out in the long third act, as the cobbler tries to resolve the violence of the preceding polterabend, and his feelings for Eva. Mr. Finley plays the cobbler with a nasty hangover, which is slowly alleviated in the course of the act. His performance comes into in the scene before the Quintet, when Sach's frustration comes to a rich musical boil. This is a nuanced, carefully paced interpretation with just enough voice left for the controversial final monologue.

Johann Martin Kränzle is an appealing Beckmesser, playing the town tax collector as a schmuck in a frock-coat. His entrance in Act II (with top hat, white "Phantom of the Opera" domino mask and a bouquet of flowers) provokes harmless laughter. Mr. Kränzle plays the work's comic villain relatively straight, and is all the funnier for his attempts to assume an air of injured dignity. This comes to fruition  in his unsuccessful attempts to woo Eva, first through composition and then through plagiarism in the last act.

Tenor Marco Jentzch is lighter in voice than most Walthers. But the clear beauty of his voice carries in the Glyndebourne and is expertly recorded. He plays the Franconian night with an air of perpetual bemusement, although one wishes for more passion in the opera's romantic scenes. Each of the Prize Song's four verses is perfectly delivered. Anna Gabler grows up as Eva in the course of the opera, a pretty girl who comes into maturity in the Quintet. She may go on to greater things. The best tenor in the show is Topi Lehtipuu, who makes use of a well-thumbed codex to give life to David's very long song describing all the Mastersingers' tönen. Michaela Selinger is an appealing (and for once, youthful) Magdalena.

David McVicar directs a detailed comic performance. Every word and gesture combines for maximum comic effect, with a thousand subtle little points adding up to one gigantic belly laugh. He takes a bluff, Shakespearean approach to the drama that might have met with Wagner's approval. The Mastersingers themselves are Victorian in attitude and appearance, with high top hats, ear trumpets and Fritz Kothner (Henry Waddington) in a swollen fat suit that makes him resemble that great English aristocrat Mr. Toad. Realistic costumes underline the clash between 18th and 19th centuries--and the unit set is cleverly re-dressed to depict various locations in and around Nuremberg.

The London Philharmonic (conducted in a powerful, organic performance by Vladimir Jurowski) are in excellent form, blasting out Wagner's big moments with authority and paying suitable attention to the little details in the score. The Glyndebourne Festival Chorus make an enthusiastic townspeople, playing their parts to the hilt and relishing the small eccentricities given to them by the director. If you're looking for a detailed, well-directed version of the opera with a good modern cast, it is tough to do better than this.

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