Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Royal Opera House
There’s one thing to be known before committing to watching Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: it’s very, very long. Five hours 35 minutes, to be exact. It’s almost impossible to keep up energy and innovation throughout such an epically lengthy production, but this version from director Kasper Holten and conductor Antonio Pappano gives it a good go.
Wagner’s Meistersinger tells a fairly mad story. The city of Nuremberg contains a group of “master singers”, who have formed a cliquey guild, where they privilege following the rules of singing over artistic expression. They are going to hold a singing competition where the prize will be the heroine’s hand in marriage. A knight enters the guild and tries to sing about his passion, but the members laugh at him. Eventually (several hours later), the knight sings in the competition and the heroine, Eva, chooses him as her husband.
The stage sets are stunning, pointing subtly to 1930s architecture and consequently to a turbulent period of German history. Art deco styling is combined with the trappings of an old-fashioned Welsh-male-voice choir rehearsal. The set is utilised intelligently and made to work hard to represent a number of locations, often simultaneously.
Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel sings the role of Hans Sachs with aplomb, capturing both the character’s whimsical, philosophical side and his jokey interactions with the other guild members. American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen also shines in her role as Eva. She gives a very nuanced performance, exploring Eva’s position as both the passive subject of her father’s plans and as an active character with agency of her own.
Occasionally it feels like there is too much going on; the busy stage is at times distracting. However, if theatre-goers take the plunge into the world of Meistersinger, it’s worth committing. There are some stunning performances and for those who are willing to immerse themselves in the experience, even the mad storyline starts to make sense.
Photos: Clive Barda
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is at the Royal Opera House from 11th until 31st March 2017. For further information or to book visit here.