Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Die Meistersinger

Met’s stolid “Meistersinger” fails to reach the high notes

December 03, 2014 at 12:55 pm
Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser and James Morris as Hans Sachs in Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg" bat the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard
Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser and James Morris as Hans Sachs in Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard
In all the uproar over the alleged anti-semitism of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer, one item on the Metropolitan Opera schedule curiously slipped through unnoticed. While plans for an HD simulcast of Adams’s opera were scuttled, the HD presentation of Richard Wagner’sDie Meistersinger von Nürnberg will proceed.
Like much of Wagner’s music, Meistersinger has a troubled history, due especially to its later association with Nazism and twentieth-century German nationalism more broadly. Wagner’s own anti-semitism is well documented, and it has even been suggested that the opera’s pedantic antagonistic, Sixtus Beckmesser, is himself an anti-semitic caricature.
But in spite of its author’s prejudices, Meistersinger remains a seminal work by one of opera’s great masters, and it returned to the Met’s stage on Tuesday night—mercifully, without protest. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s six-hour-and-ten-minute season premiere did not exactly fly by. One might have expected an illuminating performance under the baton of James Levine, and his direction was clear, communicative, and clean, aside from a couple of shaky crowd scenes.
Levine’s conducting, though, lacked energy, and not just because of his deliberate tempi. The Met orchestra, for all their suppleness and rich textures, did not play with much fire, nor with sparkle, aside from the comedic trickery between Sachs and Beckmesser in Act II and the ensuing riot. Even the swaggering Act One Prelude seemed comparatively dull.
James Morris’s portrayal of the cobbler and poet Hans Sachs was a serviceable victory lap. The veteran bass-baritone has lost some meat off his voice since his masterful performances of the role a decade ago, and the part’s topmost range was simply out of his reach on Tuesday. Still, his vocal shortcomings actually give his Sachs a sort of naturalistic gruffness, and now and then he was able to conjure up some of his bygone rolling thunder, as in his ruminative monologue near the top of the third act.
The heroic couple were solid, but never outstanding. Johan Botha mostly took a stand-and-deliver approach to the role of the amorous knight Walther, and what he delivered was, while vocally powerful and technically solid, lacking in nuance. His performances of the mastersong, rather than taking wing, seemed encumbered—his top was clear, but never thrilling. The same went for Annette Dasch, who brought volume and consistent tone to bear as Eva, but found few lyrical moments.
It was the house debut of Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser that carried much of this performance. Already the owner of an established career in Europe, Kränzle brought unusual poise to the role of the aged bachelor. His fluid, caramel tone made his own hackneyed rendition of the mastersong in the final scene a pleasure to hear, crummy lyrics and all.
Hans-Peter König remains a vocal marvel, booming out leathery tone as Eva’s father Veit Pogner, combining gentleness and nobility in his character. Paul Appleby’s brassy tenor and earnest demeanor made him a winning portrait of Sachs’s assistant David. Karen Cargill showed a firm, full-bodied voice as the handmaid Lena, and Martin Gantner impressed with radiant tone in his debut as Fritz Kothner. Donald Palumbo’s chorus sang at their very best, bringing musical force and dramatic presence to the long evening.
Otto Schenk’s hyper-realist production still gets the job done after more than twenty years. At its best, it brings the sixteenth-century setting to vivid life through the colorful pageantry of the final scene, and at its worst the audience can still admire the handsome and towering gothic arches of the otherwise workaday first act. Anyone who wants to catch it will have to hurry—the impending arrival of Stefan Herheim’s staging from the Salzburg Festival might make this the final run of the Schenk production.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg runs through December 23 at the Metropolitan Opera. Michael Volle will sing the role of Hans Sachs on December 9 and 13. A Live in HD broadcast will be presented on December 13. metoperafamily.org
- See more at: http://newyorkclassicalreview.com/2014/12/mets-stolid-meistersinger-fails-to-reach-the-high-notes/#sthash.rfUqH60I.dpuf

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Shakin' Stevens

Shakin’ Stevens

Posted by Dr No on 23 October 2014
16_going_on_17.jpgYesterday’s news was bob-a-job docs, £55 for each and every dementia diagnosis, with old hands who should know better – they have been handbagging item of service fees in various shapes and forms since the beginning of time – decrying the idea as bribery, likely to cloud professional judgement, possibly even unethical. Dr No will believe their wails when they start handing back the contents of their handbags. For his part, Dr No thinks the idea, though crude, is not without merit, even if the sum is paltry for what is rather more long-term work than a snap diagnosis, because it sends a signal in terms the ex-apothecaries have always understood – payment for an item of service. Dementia is under-diagnosed, and patients and carers who want to know and plan miss out on help that is or at least should be available. Indeed, upping the recorded prevalence might even push up dementia funding. So all in all, though a bit grubby, the idea gets Dr No’s approval.
Today’s news is Shakin’ Stevens, with his radical shake-up plans for the NHS. In fact, he had a part in yesterday’s news, but today he is centre stage, booming out his new vision for the NHS. If the recent NHS changes were so big they could be seen from space, then Shakin’ Stevens’ NHS shake-up plans are so big they can be seen from another galaxy. Given the top ten past eight slot on the Today programme, Stevens was interviewed – mercifully, as Jimbo was co-presenter, and we all know what happens when Jimbo starts asking a question to which he does not know the end – by Monty, sounding the way anti-bacterial knickers would sound if they could talk, albeit with worrying signs of early Jimbosis, complicated by acute twitteritis. Stevens, on the other hand, exuded smooth presence, sounding the way silk boxers would sound if they could talk. Prepared and abreast of his material, he climbed ev’ry mountain Monty threw at him as if they were foothills, von Trapp style.
How do you solve a problem like the NHS? Stevens was ready with his own list of my favourite things. He started at the very beginning, a very good place to start: more government money, less government tinkering; less inefficiency, more localism, and a bigger focus on prevention. He even had a sort of Do-Re-Mi for the En-Aitch-Ess, where the very first note just happened to be Neighbour as much as National. Although he didn’t use the words, a picture emerged of many GP practices becoming poly-clinics, even mini day hospitals, as the line between primary and secondary care becomes deliberately blurred. Hospitals might even travel the other way - hopefully not on the other bus - to provide GP services.
Is this the sound of music for the NHS? Steven’s plans for the NHS are a big shake up for the NHS, but this time executed at a micro rather than macro level. His clear call for real extra public funding for a national health service – efficiency savings alone will not fill the black hole - will rattle politicians’ cages, but at the same he has a history of travelling on the other bus, including time at the giant American private health firm UnitedHealth, not to mention bowling from the pavilion end when advising the then Labour government about health in the early noughties. His answers this morning on the Today programme on the question of greater private sector involvement in health service delivery made up in broadness what they lacked in depth.
Stevens did cite his long history of working for the NHS, and on more than one occasion repeated on air the mantra of a comprehensive service provided on the basis of need not ability to pay. This is a mantra up with which we have not heard from government for some time. The tones were of great affection for a national institution.
Like the young postman Rolf in The Sound of Music who woos Liesl, the eldest von Trapp child, in another pavilion from a different time, Stevens is young in his new post as NHS England’s Chief Pongo. Maybe not seventeen going on eighteen, but still young in post - and ardent. Later in the movie, we learn that the singing postman is now batting for the other side, though at the end he redeems himself by allowing the von Trapps to escape the Nazis. We can expect some dalliance by Stevens with the other side, and some fear much worse, given Stevens’ past form and connections. We all must hope that, as for Rolf, when the time comes and mountains have to be climbed, Stevens knows where his true heart lies.