Opera review: Die Meistersinger


THE big surprise about David McVicar's new production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg is that it's so blissfully traditional: nothing outr, no "concept" pushed to its limits – just a lovingly detailed bringing-to-life of Wagner's medieval parable about the nature of art.

Vicki Mortimer's fan-vaulted set does service as the cathedral, the town square, Hans Sachs's workshop and an open-air grandstand. The action has been brought forward three centuries to Wagner's time, but the community peopling it has a timeless vividness and authenticity.

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Apart from a naff Broadway-style dance routine for the assembled apprentices in Act One, McVicar goes for absolute naturalism, which means that the funny bits really are funny, and the rivalry for the hand of the burgher's daughter convincingly intense. And the casting is mostly superb. Though Marco Jentsch, as the new Meistersinger "star", is a touch short on vocal charisma, Johannes Martin Kranzle's Beckmesser is a brilliant portrait of a town-hall pen-pusher, and Topi Lehtipu's representation of the qualities required in an aspiring singer is sweetly comic.

But the evening belongs to baritone Gerald Finley, whose incarnation of the cobbler-poet casts an all-embracing glow. Hans Sachs is at once the conscience of the community and Wagner's own voice, as he ruminates on the tension between hidebound tradition and the necessary newness of all true art, and as he laments the vanity of human existence in his Act Three soliloquy Finley's singing has never been more beautiful. Here his presence tempers authority with an amused, avuncular tenderness: an unforgettable performance.

The other stars of the evening are conductor Vladimir Jurowski, the London Philharmonic and the Glyndebourne Chorus, who negotiate their multi-part vocal riot with seeming spontaneity and total precision.