Die Meistersinger, English National Opera, review: A world-class ensemble production

Conductor Edward Gardner holds Wagner’s great webs of polyphony – and the complex musical interactions on stage – in masterly balance

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The Independent Culture

ENO desperately needed a hit after its recent managerial troubles, and Richard Jones’s revival of his Welsh National Opera production of Die Meistersinger comes perfectly on cue.

Apart from Nicky Spence’s charismatic David, no single voice may leap out as world-class, but this is a world-class ensemble production, and the most convincing realisation I’ve ever seen of Wagner’s subtly-nuanced affirmation of the power of love and creativity.

Ravishingly lit on the simplest of sets, this is at once Nuremberg 1868 and a timeless reflection of German culture, with little swoops into surrealism. There’s no weak link among the soloists, with Rachel Nicholls’s Eva, Madeleine Shaw’s Magdalena, and James Creswell’s Pogner all strongly sung and vividly characterised; Andrew Shore’s Beckmesser is a brilliant study in delusional narcissism, and Gwyn Hughes Jones’s sweetly-sung Walther is an ideal fit with the musical and dramatic demands of his part.

But this is pre-eminently Iain Paterson’s evening: his cobbler-poet Sachs commands the stage with a combination of raffishness and delicacy, turning the problematic composition of the winning song into a believable event – indeed Jones’s great achievement is to make the entire opera convincing.

The choruses of apprentices and burghers are deftly marshalled, and conductor Edward Gardner holds Wagner’s great webs of polyphony – and the complex musical interactions on stage – in masterly balance.   

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