Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Royal Opera House, 1 January 2012
The stage-side lectern was ominous, the pre-show announcement no surprise. The brave little soldier turned out to be Simon O'Neill, suffering from a severe cold. Ironically, this was much his best performance so far, a few raspy notes here and there aside.
But then it was everyone's best performance. Whether this was down to the live radio broadcast or simply having a few shows under their belts is hard to tell.
Wolfgang Koch has given us a different Hans Sachs each night, his characterisation growing in subtlety and detail. For the first time I felt he wasn't holding anything in reserve. Finally he is dominating the show as he should. His anger in the workshop scene was explosive and bitter and perhaps draining too, touching the limits of his stamina in the last act. Good job there's a week to recover for the final show.
But the evening really belonged to the newly-knighted Sir Antonio Pappano. Although his imminent arrival in the pit was announced straight after O'Neill's ailments, incomprehensibly no reference was made to his honour. The noisy welcome made it clear many in the audience were up to date with the news anyway.
Clearly he has spent the holiday season polishing his preludes instead of stuffing down turkey. There was more detail, more refinement in the playing and less fear of overwhelming the singers. Third act transitions had a definition that has been lacking on earlier nights, and Pappano's always sure sense of dramatic pacing didn't let him down either.