Wagner’s great comic drama, Die Meistersinger, premiered in 1868 and has been hugely successful ever since. It portrays the clash of the old and the new, of tradition and progress, of ancient and modern.
The Nürnberg choir festival is shaken when a young knight, Walter, comes to the town and falls in love with Eva, the daughter of city elder Veit Pogner (Stephen Milling). When he hears that Eva’s hand in marriage is to be the prize of the choir festival, Walter knows that despite not being a natural singer, he must compete.
The brilliant Sir Bryn Terfel, whose contribution to the world of opera is legendary in productions as diverse as Wagner and Sondheim, appears as the wise “elder statesman” Hans Sachs. He does not disappoint, approaching the role with a delicate balance of humour and pathos.
Terfel’s performance is complemented by his excellent cast-mates. The hard-done-by Sixtus Beckmesser (Wagnerian specialist Johannes Martin Krӓnzledrawing), elicits feelings of antipathy, pity and finally warmth; the young knight, Walter von Stolzing (Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones), strides into Nürnberg a convincing mix of naivety and the strength; American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen returns to the role of Eva (which she previously sung at the San Francisco Opera), bringing a depth of feeling to a part that’s ultimately a plot device. The romance between Eva’s maid Magdalena (Hanna Hipp) and David (Allan Clayton) provides welcome comic relief, and the Royal Opera chorus is magnificent as ever under William Spalding.
The production is director Kasper Holten’s last as director of the Royal Opera, and his imminent departure was lamented with boos from the audience when he took to the stage at the end. Holten assembled a dynamic group of artists to match the glorious music with enticing visuals, from Mia Stensgaard’s magnificent set to Anja Vang Kragh’s perfectly attuned costumes. This multi-sensory spectacle was brought to a crescendo by the masterful Sir Antonio Pappano, (musical director of the Royal Opera), whose consistently stunning orchestra’s full-throttle brass sends shivers down the spine.