Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A fabulously staged Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Opera Australia in Melbourne: Herald Sun Review

Published online at Herald Sun 14th November and in print 15th November 2018

As the only comedy among Wagner’s mature operas, the laughs don’t come thick and fast in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. But Wagner’s gargantuan work of more than 4 hours - with its elements of interpreted baggage – beats dryly in its celebration of the underdog and artistic tradition. 

The cast of Opera Australia's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
On the surface, Opera Australia’s imaginative new co-production by director Kasper Holten explores the themes with touching nobility. It’s also fabulously staged with swathes of spectacular regalia (sets by Mia Stensgaard, costumes by Anja Vang Kragh, lighting by Jesper Kongshaug). Holten, however, doesn’t simply offer the script without putting forward some kind of resistance. 

The opera’s first focus is on preparations for a rigorously regulated singing competition. The denigrating trophy is Eva, the daughter of a mastersinger. But Eva is in love with Walther, who needs to learn the rules fast. 

Walther’s mentor, Hans Sachs, recognises beauty in Walther’s passionate style. Sachs is the second focus whose ideologies become thrashed out in extended introspection. What Holten creates is a hybrid reading.

Act 1 packs a powerful Art Deco punch. Action is moved from the story’s Renaissance setting to a kind of elitist secret society club, an enormous vaultlike room resembling the innards of a grand organ. By Act 2’s fantastically giddy end, it’s all simply theatrical illusion, a drama Sachs appears the writer of.

Natalie Aroyan, Stefan Vinke and chorus, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
In its breathtaking Act 3 conclusion, Holten brilliantly jackknifes the nationalism that gushes in declarations of “Honour your German Masters” with Eva gesturing the last assault. No explanation necessary why Hitler could see what he wanted to see in it for propagandist uses.

Performances shone in all directions. Burnished and succulent baritone Michael Kupfer-Radecky depicted Sachs superbly as an ambiguous sort not entirely comfortable in his soul-searching skin. 

Natalie Aroyan was deliciously radiant as Eva. When Stefan Vinke hit his stride, he was formidable as Walther. And the comic seasoning would’ve been stale without Warwick Fyfe’s sensational turn as the sneering object of ridicule, Beckmesser. Daniel Sumegi’s stolid Veit Pogner, Nicholas Jones’s happy-go-lucky David and Dominica Matthews’ perky Magdalene all impressed. 

And how welcome it was having Pietari Inkinen back, conducting with energy and careful support after two eloquently driven distant Melbourne Ring seasons.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Opera Australia 
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne 
Until 22nd November, 2018


Production Photos: Busby

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