Prom 2: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (concert staging) - Royal Albert Hall, 17 July 2010
I''m not sure why the BBC went for an English title seeing as this performance was sung in the original German. Perhaps they were worried people might pronounce Die Meistersinger as in "die, Mr Bond".
With no props and only a narrow strip of empty stage, the scope for acting was limited. The soloists were probably glad to sport the same democratic all-black uniform as the orchestra just inches behind them. Their heavy stage costumes would have been torture in the sweltering (as usual) Royal Albert Hall. The revelation that without their cunning disguises nearly all the cast were the same age is testament to WNO's wig and makeup artistry in the earlier staged shows.
Shorn of Richard Jones's superb production (and of supertitles), this version threw the focus squarely on the music. Orchestral and choral forces were somewhat undersized - more noticeable in the cavernous Royal Albert Hall than in the Birmingham Hippodrome - and the big moments fell short of tsunami power. But detail was not overlooked - they even pulled in a special harp for Beckmesser's plinky-plunk lute solos (the smaller instrument to the right of the harpist in the photo below).
Without the distractions of choreography and scenery, Lothar Koenigs' gear changes were more obvious, but he has a keen dramatic sense and timed his luftpausen to perfection. The WNO orchestra must now know this opera as well as Koenigs (who mouthed every word) does, and a few split notes aside produced little to quibble with.
The singing in general was more notable for its interpretive craft than its technical perfection. Only David Soar, in the small but exposed part of Nightwatchman, sang with real beauty (good to see he's finally getting his ROH debut soon, in Adriana Lecouvreur).
As Magdalene, Anna Burford's firm, well-projected tone suited the demanding acoustic. But the Royal Albert Hall has a peculiar way of exaggerating vibrato that flattered few of the others, Terfel included. At some times he sounded suitably world-weary and resigned, at others just tired and overheated. (I loved the way he built his brow-mopping into his characterisation). Dramatically, he has Hans Sachs in the bag. He understands the text and shapes it to perfection, but the voice just wasn't quite there on this particular occasion.
Christopher Purves was more solid vocally. His Beckmesser is far from the usual comic caricature - not evil, not even bad, just an ordinary man with a thick skin and all his foibles to the fore. And why not? Purves craftily squeezed in a few bits of physical comedy that had the audience eating out his hand.
Amanda Roocroft's Eva seemed to survive the acoustic better than Andrew Tortise's wobbly David and Raymond Very's even wobblier Walther, but I'd be interested to hear how the broadcast version sounds (the whole thing is on the iPlayer for the next few days, with Stephen Fry as guide). I swapped seats at the intervals, moving from the back gradually round to the front, and it was both fascinating and disturbing to note just how much the sound differed from each position - not just the predictable balance issues, but the quality of individual instruments and voices.