Review: ENO - The Mastersingers Of Nuremberg @ London Coliseum
I've been kicking myself for missing Welsh National Opera's Mastersingers back in 2010. Thankfully, English National Opera (doing the show entirely in English) were granted to stage the work in London, which they haven't done for over thirty years. With acclaimed director, Richard Jones, this was one of the big events in London this year.
In this massive opera (the third act alone is two hours long), the very notion of artistic creation and aesthetics are debated, accepted and altered for the good of the individual and also the community. Pogner, one of the mastersingers, will offer his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever can win the singing competition. Walther, a young knight, is madly in love with Eva and is determined to win, whilst Beckmesser plots to win her for himself. With the help of good-hearted cobbler, mastersinger Hans Sachs' hilarity ensues in this hugely humorous work.
This is Wagner, but not as I know him. With gods, myths, magic, and more in all of his other operas, this is his only comedy, also rooted in fact (Hans Sachs was a real man). If somewhat jarring, the music is evidently charming, and it seeped into Wagner's rich, melodious sound world. The orchestra sounded subdued in the overture, perhaps bracing themselves for over four hours of playing.
To start, the ENO chorus - who are always immaculate - went above and beyond here; singing their hearts out and always meaning it. Iain Patterson was perfect as Sachs in his burly and humanistic manner. The comic genius of Andrew Shore playing Beckmesser was a treasure. Whether marching around, vocally warming up for his stolen song in the last act or post-mob attack, standing completely nude on stage, with only his lute as middle section protection. Wales' frequent Puccini tenor, Gywn Hughes Jones was Walther, and he maintained a stature of true passion and expressive word delivery (his song in Act Three is glorious). Rachael Nichols made the most of her shorter presence on stage as Eva, with great gusto and decision-making when choosing lovers et al. The rest of the cast were superb as well.
With a production whose livery was clearly green, a traditional vein went through the whole production. The chorus was clad in striking medieval costumes: the mastersingers were in elaborate, wallpaper-like Tudor garments and the Nightwatchman (Nicholas Crawley) were in a bizarre, jet black disco uniform. The second act may have looked a little too artificial, but the sets weren't always the focus, with such glorious singing and orchestral delivery.
This may have been Hitler's favourite opera (it's certainly not mine) and Sachs' final speech about invaders taking over Germany is most uneasy for a 21st Century British audience. The giant cloth during the acts was a massive cut and paste collage of the greats of German arts and science: Beethoven, Brecht, Freud, Berg, Kinski, and so many more. As the opera ended, we, as an audience, came to realise that one dark chapter in a country's history shouldn't define it. So much good has come out of Germany, both before and after WWII. This is cause for much celebration, as was proven by the ecstatic audience response.
Wagnerians have to go, opera lovers should go and culture fans should embark on this great feat of music and the joy of song-making.
Rating: 8/10 (5 stars)
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Photo Credit: ENO Website
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