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.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Royal Opera House, 22 December 2011
As a penetrating symbol of a social order so decisively male-centred that a woman can be given away as a competition prize, the codpiece has much to commend it. But like bare bewbs and live animals, codpieces have a tendency to dominate any scene they're in - which in this production is pretty much all of them. I suppose the comedy has to start somewhere.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Royal Opera House, 19 December 2011 (first night)
The scene above is the most imaginative one in a production that otherwise sticks doggedly to the letter of the text. As midsummer madness or Wahn grips the Nuremburgers at the end of Act II, the featureless walls are suddenly pocked with openings. Bodies froth out from high, low, and even above the stage. The boundaries are breached; the city can no longer contain the human activity within. It's subtler than it looks.
Prince Charles (far left above) got in touch with his German roots earlier tonight when he paid a low-key visit to the Royal Opera House for the first night of the Meistersinger revival.
Slipping in unobtrusively, he sat attentively through the full nearly six hour performance (no mid-show tweeting for HRH), offering generous applause before he escaped quietly through a side door into his waiting car.
I didn't recognise any of HRH's five-strong posse, proof I spend too much time listening to opera and not enough studying Hello!
No, Simon O'Neill hasn't had an 'accident' with a Dustbuster. Distracting codpieces are all part of the 16th century styling of Graham Vick's 1993 Royal Opera House production of Die Meistersinger(check out the gents in the lower corners of Pieter Brueghel's The Wedding Dance below).
You have until Sunday 3 July to catch Glyndebourne's new Meistersinger online (videos below). Redrafted as a bonnet drama by David McVicar, its star turn is Gerald Finley in the Colin Firth role of Hans Sachs.
I must confess I only made it about half way through before giving up - more to do with the tinny sound and dizzying camerawork than the production itself.
On 26 June Glyndebourne and the Guardian will both stream the last night of the new Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg live online via guardian.co.uk and glyndebourne.com. It will be available for seven days after the initial broadcast and will be free of charge.
The performance will also be shown at various Picturehouse cinemas, and the Science Museum. (Not free, of course.)
Greeted by uniformly appalling reviews every year since it opened in 2007, Katharina Wagner's Meistersinger production has been tarted up for this year's Bayreuth Festival.
The final act has been substantially revamped, the relationship between Sachs and Eva made more demonstrative, and for some reason Walther (Klaus Florian Vogt) now looks like Steffi Graf on a bad hair day.
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.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - WNO at Birmingham Hippodrome, 6 July 2010
The reviews for Richard Jones’s new WNO Meistersinger have been overwhelminglypositive, and rightly so. It opened in Cardiff a couple of weeks ago, but I caught it on its mini-tour to the Birmingham Hippodrome (two nights, the second this Saturday).
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Welsh National Opera are looking for men. Not just any men. 'Mature' men, men with beards and men who can make it to Wales Millennium Centre tomorrow (27th May 2010) to have their photo taken are top of the list.
The photos will join the Act 1 portrait gallery in Richard Jones's new production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnburg. If you fancy forming part of his latest wallpaper, contact WNO.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Opernhaus Zürich, 8 May 2010
A good opera production should acknowledge the period of the work's setting, the composer's own times, and the modern day - or so the maxim goes. It seems for this 2003 production Nikolaus Lehnhoff took the advice literally. So his first act is set in a jerkin-riddled Nuremberg that Dürer might recognise, the second in a misty Victorian dreamscape and the last as a contemporary village pageant.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Bayerische Staatsoper, Nationaltheater, Munich, 31 July 2007 (Münchner Opernfestspiele 2007)
This was Klaus Florian Vogt's night. The last time a performance took my breath away the way this one did was - last time I saw Klaus Florian Vogt actually. In Lohengrin at the Met last May he stunned with the choirboy purity of his voice, its simple beauty. Tonight, the voice was rather different - or maybe he'd adapted his performance to suit his role of Stolzing, which is generally a little lower-lying anyway. Whatever, it retains that remarkable clarity, but the innocent, otherworldly air is replaced by a more centred and inflected delivery. The power is incredible - the voice is so clean, but it slices through the orchestra even when he's not pushing it. When he ups the volume it's simply majestic. It wasn't an entirely perfect performance - he slipped out of focus now and again, but he didn't fail on the big arias.
The audience was a mixture of hardened Wagnerites and night-outers but I think everyone could feel how the atmosphere changed when he sang. He got the most enormous ovation at the curtain call - even he was surprised - the whole place shook with the cheering and stamping.
Ending the Munich Opera Festival with Die Meistersinger is a tradition going back many years. Only the one performance is given each year, so there's no opportunity for the cast to refine their technique. The current production was introduced in 2004. It's framed in simple, fairly literal sets. That's budget-simple, not chic-minimalist simple. Curved walls are turned round to become interiors, plain chairs and tables serve as furniture, props are few. It has a plain, timeless quality that should serve this production well for years to come.
Costumes are modern. Well, modern-ish. This production's Nuremberg is a town through which the winds of fashion have not blown since about 1987. Klaus Florian Vogt is given a ghastly winged and lacquered Lady Di blowdry, which thankfully collapses into waves by the last act. It is complemented by some criminal attire - an Alagna-fest of cuban heels, pleated pants, leather jerkin, and bolo tie. Suprisingly, his hawtness is only lightly compromised by these disasters. His Eva, Camilla Nylund, doesn't notice. She's got her own mullet, airhostess suit and Queen Mother shoes to worry about. The Meistersingers escape lightly with a variety of elegant suits, though David (Kevin Conners) must endure a few teenage styles.
On to the music. What can I say? For most it is not Wagner's finest moment, and there are a few longueurs, but the orchestra under Peter Schneider were magnificent and invested the whole five hours with remarkable purpose and energy.
There were no duds amongst the singers either. It must help that this production sets their characterisations very traditionally. A few modern props are introduced - the scoring of Stolzing's first try-out is done on a powerpoint presentation, Beckmesser accompanies himself for his contest song using a sort of portable beatbox round his neck - but these don't stray far from what was originally intended.
Kevin Conners is perhaps a little on the old side to play the apprentice David, but the voice is a perenially youthful one, and he has the physical lightness and dexterity to make the most of his comic moments.
The other great comedy role of the piece is of course Beckmesser. Here the short and stout Eike Wilm Schulte had us even before he opened his mouth with his strutting goggle-eyed physical characterisation. His full sonorous voice was a joy to the ear. His 'bad' singing was superbly nuanced - without missing a note or hamming it up he managed to be as exquisitely awful as the role demanded.
Matti Salminen was back for his third opera in as many nights, this time as Pogner. He did sound a little tired now and then, but generally it was a fine, dignified performance.
Jan-Hendrik Rootering as Sachs disappointed slightly. Sachs is of necessity the still, quiet centre of the piece, around whom the dramas rage. But he's also the motor for change in the community so the part needs a certain vitality. Rootering though went for virtual immobility. With a build that could stop a pig in a corridor, perhaps, like Pavarotti, this was something of a necessity. The vocal performance lacked colour too, though, not to mention reach and power. It wasn't a terrible performance, but next to the other principals, his star inevitably shone less brightly.
Camilla Nylund too lacked impact. Again there was nothing particularly wrong with her performance, but her voice is too shrill to be appealing, and she was frosty and uninvolved.
There are few experiences less pleasant than a long Wagner done badly. But done well, the hours just disappear without you noticing. Today's performance started at 4pm, and when we came out at 10, it was shock to see it was dark. That's how good it was. I practically had to mortgage my ovaries to get the great seat I had tonight, but it was more than worth it.
I was lucky enough to catch his weirdly fabulous Lohengrin in New York last year (surely the Met debut of the season). So I was looking forward to seeing what he'd make of Der Fliegende Holländer's Erik. But that will have to wait until next February, when he tackles it in Vienna.
At least he's still on the list for Munich's own Meistersingernext week. For now.