27 June 2011

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Glyndebourne

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was the largest ever production at Glyndebourne and it showed. The stage was full for most of the long evening with singers, actors, children and even circus acts.

But that was at the end of the evening and I want to start at the beginning.

Glyndebourne expected demand for the few performances of Die Meistersinger to be high, even though the cheap seats in the upper circle were £150 each, so we were limited to just two tickets each. So without the usual car load to take I went by train instead.

The train to Lewes leaves from London Victoria and I caught it at Clapham Junction were there were around thirty people going the same way. The train was already busy and it was bit of a struggle to find a seat and somewhere to put the picnic stuff.

The pre-booked courtesy bus took us from Lewes station to Glyndebourne. We had to take the long route as the town centre was closed for a carnival of some sort and Glyndebourne was already busy by the time that the bus got there.

A quick desperate dash up the stairs grabbed the last available space on the picnic tables next to the opera house.

Heavy rain was forecast and so a picnic on the grass was out of the question and I did not fancy the walk to/from the marquee in the expected rain.

The expected rain stayed away before the opera started allowing me to take the traditional walk through the gardens that is very much part of the Glyndebourne experience.

As is the champagne that was opened to accompany a late and light lunch.

Around 3pm the bell summoned us into the house to hear the start of the marathon opera that would occupy us, with intervals, for over six hours.

The only other Wagner opera that I had seen all the way through was Tristan und Isolde which I saw two years ago so I came to Die Meistersinger with few preconceptions and few expectations either.

The story is simple but told in a lot of detail so while there are no surprises at all there is enough substance in the dialogue to keep you fully engaged. Four hours sound like a marathon but it felt much more like a middle-distance event.

I've seen Die Meistersinger describes as a comedy but I would not agree with that. It's basically a love story that has some comic elements. A RomCom if you like.

Musically (and I may get shot for this) it carries on in much the same vein throughout and while there are some dramatic moments there are no stand-out songs. At least not on the first hearing.

The singing is pretty constant too as there is a lot of story to tell and lots of people to help tell it.

And this is where the opera and Glyndebourne wins. The singing is exquisite throughout as is the character acting that is demanded of the singers on top of their day job of delivering the music.

The staging works well mostly by being simple and letting the story happen around it rather than being part of the story itself. The one exception is the slapstick section in Act 3 when Beckmesser (the baddie) sneaks in to Sachs' (the cobbler) workshop and he first falls over a bench and then ends up throwing lots of books on to the floor. I felt that this comedy was a little forced, inconsistent with the rest of the opera and was unnecessary too.

But I come back to the superb music and the singing which carried me effortlessly and enjoyably through the story and the evening. The journey home by bus, train and another bus felt like a magic carpet ride as I so buoyed up by the whole experience.

When Glyndebourne is as good as this it really is magical.

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