Thursday, June 23, 2016

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Glyndebourne opening night: Gerald Finley

Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg, Glyndebourne 2016
Glyndebourne’s 2016 season got off to a disappointingly damp start. Grey skies drizzled rain on to the gardens, and a middle-aged earthbound account of  Meistersinger’s festive overture suggested that the conductor Michael Güttler (a late substitute for Robin Ticciati, still recovering from a herniated slipped disc) was intent on delivering a long plod through Wagner’s comedy.
But when the drop curtain rose, so did our spirits: Vicki Mortimer’s set beautifully evokes the interior of a German Gothic church, in which the chorus was singing its chorale with a hearty sincerity that would have warmed the heart of Martin Luther.
The sun came out on Güttler’s conducting too, and suddenly there was lift-off – with the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing with a smile on its collective face (a bouquet to its impeccable horn players), the music glowed with shining clarity and Schubertian freshness, reminding us that among many other things, this great work focuses on that crucial moment when youth comes knocking at the door and the older generation must decide how to answer its call.
At the centre of the performance is Gerald Finley’s deeply sympathetic and thoughtful portrayal of the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs. It’s a long and challenging role that he shouldn’t undertake in larger houses: by the end of the evening, he was clearly husbanding his vocal resources, and there were moments earlier when his fortissimo required swelling by another few decibels.
A scene from Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg by Richard Wagner, Glyndebourne, 2016 
But the “Flieder” monologue was exquisitely done and every phrase was imbued with an ideal combination of unpretentious eloquence, emotional tenderness and sceptical irascibility. The audience rose to acclaim him at the curtain calls – a tribute, one felt, as much to Sachs’ firm moral stance as to Finley’s artistry.
His antagonist was Jochen Kupfer, a well-schooled German baritone who presented a carefully detailed portrayal of the pedantic town clerk Beckmesser. For my taste, as he effetely primped his hair and pouted disdain at his inferiors, he rather overplayed the note of Julian Clary campness. Yet the idea that the man is a rank outsider was illuminating, and his dignity after his final humiliation was genuinely touching.
The American soprano Amanda Majeski was Eva. Reminiscent of Gundula Janowitz, singing slightly sharp with a choirboy purity and rather insipid in personality, she launched the quintet exquisitely and looked very pretty to boot.
Much more vivid were David Portillo and Hanna Hipp – just about perfection as that most unlikely of operatic couples David and Magdalene (she must be fifteen years older than he is), with the sweet-toned puppyish Portillo managing to enliven even the interminable recital of the Masters’ modes in the first act.
A scene from Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg by Richard Wagner, Glyndebourne 2016 
Alastair Miles was a bluff, sturdy Pogner, his fellow masters all strongly characterised. The chorus sounded magnificent both at prayer and in riot, and the only substantial disappointment was Michael Schade, a charmless Walther, kitted out for some reason in the livery of the chocolate soldier and delivering an unlovely, unseductive Prize Song that wouldn’t have got past the first round if I’d been on the panel.
David McVicar has returned to revive his 2011 staging, set in the 1820s, presumably in reference to the period of Wagner’s own childhood. The concept is agreeably decorative, but although we all love the sight of ladies in Empire-line bodices and Jane Austen bonnets, I don’t find that the updating does much to open up Wagner’s profound ideas about the place of art in society or the relation of tradition to inspiration.
True, the staging has been meticulously rehearsed and there is some nicely observed psychology in the third act, particularly in relation to Sachs’ feelings about his dead wife and Eva. But McVicar ‘s ultimate priority is to mount a nice show, complete with some over-choreographed dance sequences, and as so often with this estimably canny and tasteful director, I feel that he’d rather be letting rip commercially in the West End than behaving himself in strait-laced opera houses.

Meistersinger: Glydnebourne

June 23rd, 2016: see you in the gardens!

© 2016 Glyndebourne

This would be a different Wagner.

The dark side of the gods: (it is sometimes easier if one take GODS in the Ring to mean those in POWER. For the characters read here.) In fact, the gods need not work at all, the Nibelungs work almost all the time.

Disrespectful Wotan is hardly revered unanimously, and even he acknowledges higher authorities. Erda knows things he doesn't; his almost bureaucratic dominance derives solely from treaties engraved in runes on his spear, treaties to which he is subservient.

Born liarsCharacters lie as it suits them. Events are initiated by Wotan's spurious promise to the Giants to pay them by giving them Freia in exchange for building Valhalla, a promise he knows he cannot keep, as she is the indispensable symbol of love whose golden apples keep the gods alive. His shady ally, Loge, is defined as a double-dealing trickster. Brünnhilde breaks her promise to her father to allow Siegmund to be killed in combat. Mime makes dissembling a veritable life's work, ably carried forward by his nephew, Hagen, in Götterdämmerung. 

Brünnhilde disobeys Wotan, and his grandson Siegfried destroys his power. Mime, who raises Siegfried from infancy and even makes him toys, is treated with disturbingly cruel contempt by the bumptious hero. Hagen, whom Alberich sired via gold-empowered lust as a tool to retrieve the Ring for him, mutters that if he succeeds he will keep it, not hand it over to his Nibelung father.

Thieving & Misappropriation 
……. misappropriation, of persons or of things, provides much of the plot machinery. First, Alberich plunders the Rhinegold, and afterward, theft of others' possessions, including the Ring, motivates action upon action. 

Incest and other illicit sexThe teasing of Alberich by the Rhinemaidens which leads to his abjuring love--love, not lust. The definitive heroine, Brünnhilde, and her Valkyrie sisters are the offspring of an adulterous liaison between Wotan and Erda; Wotan also illegitimately fathers the Wälsung twins by a mortal. Sieglinde's infidelity is excoriated by marriage-goddess Fricka, as is her violation with Siegmund of an even more basic taboo, incest. But Wotan defends the twins ("…those two are in love") and, like most audience members moved by the ardent love music, views both transgressions kindly. 

Fafner kills his brother Fasolt, the first victim of Alberich's curse, and we are off to the homicide races. Hunding slays Siegmund, only to be destroyed by Wotan's contempt. Siegfried kills Fafner, the Giant-turned-dragon, and then, after realizing that Mime is trying to poison him, kills him as well. By the time the gods' destiny climaxes, Hagen has murdered both Siegfried and Gunther and is himself drowned by the Rhinemaidens. Eventually Brünnhilde sets Valhalla ablaze as part of her self-immolation upon Siegfried's funeral pyre ("Thus do I hurl the torch into Valhalla's proud-standing stronghold") and all the gods die.
Greed, greed, greed!Finally, "coveting that which is your neighbor's" is pretty much the whole raison d'être for the Ring story, starting with Alberich's desire for the Rhinemaidens, then for the gold they guard. Thereafter everybody seems to want what doesn't belong to him or her: the Ring, a sword, a treasure, someone else's wife, sheer power. 

Yet in spite of Wagner's wholesale abandonment of the Decalogue, the bastion of Western morality, Der Ring des Nibelungen generates explosive ethical and metaphysical impact. He started with the absorption, fusion and reinvention of myriad legendary sources, and layered Schopenhauer's philosophy upon Feuerbach's. In Art and Climate Wagner wrote, "there is no true freedom except that which is common to all mankind... The redeemer is therefore love… starting with sexual love, [it] strides forward through love of children, brothers and friends, to universal love of humanity." The emphasis is his. Yet, some years later he wrote to Mathilde Wesendonck, "I can conceive of only one salvation. It is Rest! ...The stilling of every desire!" 

Wagner once wrote to Röckel, "I have come now to realize how much there is, owing to the whole weight of my poetic aim, that only becomes clear through the music." He later described the discontinuity between his "rationally formed ideas" and "the exquisite unconsciousness of artistic creation… guided by wholly different, infinitely more profound intuition."