George Orwell wrote that everyone knows that the perfect place to be is the English countryside on a summer’s day – no finer example of this can be found than Glyndebourne, but I’m sure that Orwell would have been far more approving of the venue for Sunday’s ‘live’ showing of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in the IMAX cinema at the Science Museum.
Anyone who thinks it rather weird that two such superficially disparate settings as these should come together would do well to heed the remarks made by the Musuem’s director, Ian Blatchford, in his the introductory speech at the pre-show reception: true to his background, with an MA in Renaissance Studies, it is his view that Science and Art are not in opposition but complement each other. This afternoon’s event was a wonderful example of that, bringing together, for me, the museum where all three of my children were more or less raised, and the opera house which is one of the centres of my musical life.
The IMAX cinema is vast, yet thanks to the steeply raked seating there is no sense of being surrounded; in fact, this was such an intimate experience that I have to recommend it even to die-hard ‘live only’ opera-goers, since I have seldom felt so in touch with what was happening onstage. This was the last night of the production, and you had the feeling that everyone was giving their all – it was such a buzz, for want of a better expression, to know that we were sharing this with people in cinemas all over the country.
David McVicar’s production has the look of an illustration from Vanity Fair (Thackeray’s, that is) and you half expect Eva and Magdalene to address each other as ‘Miss Sharp’ and ‘Miss Sedley’, with Walther a dead ringer for poor, sappy George who is about to stop one at Waterloo. It looks wonderful, of course, with Vicki Mortimer’s characteristically detailed designs and Paule Constable’s ever-evocative lighting, and if we miss some of the entrancing stage action provided by earlier productions, this is compensated for by the lovingly etched characterization.
Gerald Finley is young to play Hans Sachs, and there were times when you found yourself thinking things like “If he was carrying her in his arms, he must have been six when he was doing so” but he presents such an absolutely credible figure, sensitive to every nuance of the music and subtlety of the action, that even those raised on Norman Bailey would surely approve. The ‘Flieder’ monologue and ‘Wahn, Wahn’ were both sung not as isolated set pieces but natural developments of the plot, and his interactions with Eva and Walther were deeply touching. I have seldom been so moved by the scene where Sachs and the knight collaborate on the song.
Marco Jetzsch seemed to grow into the part of Walther; hes presented as a bit of a sap, one of those chinless wonder type knights who go around slicing up miscreants, but he sang with great commitment if little splendour or heroic tone. Anna Gabler’s Eva is a feisty creation, perhaps a little astringent but able to rise to the occasion, particularly in ‘Selig wie die Sonne’. Both Michaela Selinger’s Magdalene and Topi Lehtipuu’s David are ideally cast, as credible as you could wish for in their scenes together.
The other Mastersingers are roundly characterized, most obviously Johannes Martin Kränzle’s foppish Malvolio of a Beckmesser – a notable Glyndebourne debut for this great lyric baritone. Henry Waddington was an adorably pompous Kothner, Colin Judson an hilariously ‘sensitive’ Vogelgesang, and it was wonderful to have Adrian Thompson’s ringing tone and exact characterization as Eisslinger. He’s still the best tenor Idamante I’ve ever heard.
The Chorus covered itself in glory as usual, with notably fine singing in the final act, and Vladimir Jurowski conducted a self-effacing, almost chamber-music reading of the score. There was plenty of grandeur when it was wanted, but no bombast – the surround sound in the cinema was warm and spacious. The video direction was superb, rivalling if not surpassing the live transmissions from the Met. The picture quality was stunning, though it did suffer from mild motion artefacts and video aliasing. I suspect this was down to the compression used for the transmission.
A great musical and cinematic event, and one which I hope will become a regular fixture.