A conservative handsome looking production with great conducting and a wonderful Sachs and Beckmesser but let down badly by the Walther and Eva
Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg is my second favourite Wagner opera after Tristan Und Isolde, especially for the exquisite Quintet. Of Meistersinger I personally can name better productions than this one, like the 1984, 1970, 2001, 1988 and 1995 productions, but even with the problems I had it is vastly superior to the Katharina Wagner-directed one from Bayreuth.
Starting with the few but big problems I had with the performance, Ricarda Merbeth's Eva is the party pooper. I have heard of singers whose voices are too small for roles, but this is a rare exception where the voice was at least a size too large. And to make things worse, Merbeth's is not a beautiful voice, too wobbly and her pitch for my liking sounds all over the map. I have no better news about her acting or appearance, I find her too matronly for Eva and her grimacing facial expressions really grate.
Johan Botha actually is not as bad. Vocally he has got exactly the right voice and is clearly comfortable in Wagner. He sounds lyrical and ardent, and gives a winning account of the Prize Song. But his singing is not matched by his acting. Not helped by his weight(which does for me stretch credibility in roles like this), Botha is not really the idea of ardent, if anything he does look quite awkward and staid.
And sadly, the Quintet falls flat. Beautifully conducted and very well controlled by the other four parts, but it needs a good Eva to work. Merbeth's inelegant phrasing, wayward pitch and intolerable wobble really ruins a performance of the single most beautiful piece of music(to me) that Wagner ever wrote.
On the other hand, it is a very conservative(but not too square) staging by Otto Schenck. While there is nothing imaginative on display, there is nothing done in bad taste or done unsubtly. It is all very handsome in production values and although Merbeth and Botha are done no favours by their close ups the video directing is intelligently done. The only real criticism costumes wise were I agree the ladies' hats in Act 3, horrible indeed. The rest though are fine.
The orchestral playing is suitably joyous with the right amount of pathos and completiveness as well. Christian Thielemann's conducting is beautifully shaped and not as square as it can be. Michael Schade has a really beautiful voice as David, and Ain Anger displays a noble and rich voice as Pogner as well as a handsome appearance and regal acting.
Falk Struckmann is wonderful as Sachs. Vocally this is the best I've heard him in a while, instead of unsteady he is focused and quite noble-sounding, with his monologues compellingly sung. He is also very wise, funny and completive, as Hans Sachs should be like. Adrian Erod is a splendid Beckmesser, his comic timing's impeccable that is ideal for the pedantic character that if done right you can feel sympathy for at the end(and you do here) and he has a lovely characterful voice.
Overall, a solid Meistersinger that could have been better with a more vocally apt Eva and a more ardent Walther. 7/10 for the staging, musical values, Anger, Struckmann and Erod. Bethany Cox
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