Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera House, London
Hansel and Gretel, King's Head Theatre, London
Intoxicating and thrilling, Wagner's romantic comedy revival mixes the scent of elder blossom with priapic mayhem
Sunday 08 January 2012
Elaine Kidd's revival of Graham Vick's 1993 production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg brings a touch of midsummer madness to the blustery midwinter.
Outside the Royal Opera House, roasting chestnuts scent the streets. Inside, the air is perfumed with elder blossom and the sweat of a small city on the verge of priapic mayhem. As the advent-calendar windows of Richard Hudson's jewel-bright set open to the left, to the right, and above the stage in Act II of Wagner's romantic comedy, the people of Nuremberg tumble out in their nightshirts, cod-pieces and corsets momentarily forgotten. If the guildsmen are concerned with the preservation of art, their apprentices are more interested in chasing skirt.
Disorder is the heartbeat of this opera: the snatched kiss, the swift left-hook, the filched sausage, the song that is unlike any heard before. Vick's production has aged well. Buy into its topsy-turvy, rambunctious melée of Breughelian costumes and scale-model houses and you are more likely to be relieved than disappointed that it favours passion over philosophy. His Nuremberg is not a nationalistic ideal but a small cathedral city in which everyone knows everyone else's business. Kidd's ensemble work is strong, her affection for the supporting characters of Pogner (Sir John Tomlinson), poor, pettish Beckmesser (Peter Coleman-Wright), David (Toby Spence) and Magdalene (Heather Shipp) evident.
This is a close-knit community in which Simon O'Neill's stiffly aristocratic Walther is out of place. If the sexual tension between Emma Bell's Eva and Wolfgang Koch's Hans Sachs has cooled to a nostalgic simmer, the orchestral playing has warmth and physicality. Nurturing the chorus, coaxing eloquence from Koch and impetuousness from Bell, supporting Coleman-Wright's tragi-comic tantrums, Tomlinson's fretfulness and Spence's optimism, Sir Antonio Pappano made an often turgid score flow sweetly. "Wach auf!" was thrilling, the blend of the apprentices as toothsome as a German knabenchor, the out-of-season elder blossom intoxicating.
Classical music's newest knight was nothing if not accessible over the holiday, popping up to conduct and introduce Tosca in the BBC2 broadcast of Jonathan Kent's production with Bryn Terfel, Jonas Kaufmann and Angela Gheorghiu, and the 60-minute documentary, Pappano's Essential Tosca. Cutting from rehearsal room and stage to the opera's landmarks in Rome, Pappano explored the temporal, harmonic and geographical concentrates in Puccini's score – the "bite and snarl" of open strings, the "masturbatory" energy in Scarpia's snarling confession. This was goosebump-good television: incisive, informative, and gripping enough to make me stop wondering whether Gheorghiu and Nancy Dell'Olio share the same off-stage stylist. Kaufmann may have the high notes, but nothing is as exciting as Terfel in a fury. For those disappointed by his cancellation of this week's guest appearance as Sachs in the Birmingham performance of Meistersinger, the 14 January repeat of both Tosca programmes will be a powerful consolation. But there's nothing like two hours of incendiary Puccini to make you doubt the genius of Wagner.
Away from Tosca and the computer, where I watched Cendrillon in La Monnaie's revival of Laurent Pelly's production (available online to 21 January), it was slim pickings for those weary of carols and waltzes. Having enjoyed a sober New Year's Eve, I was unflustered by Mariss Jansons's turn on the anvils the following day. But if we're to have the Vienna Philharmonic on television, can't they play some decent music? Perhaps kitsch, rather than institutional sexism, explains the dearth of female players in this orchestra. So let's be kind about Open Door Opera's Hansel and Gretel, which ran at north London's King's Head with a very young cast and village-hall production values. Kelvin Lim's handsome account of the fiendish piano reduction was the most successful aspect of Lewis Reynold's staging, which played Humperdinck's Wagnerian fairy tale super-straight until the entrance of Ian Massa-Harris's impossibly glamorous, unnervingly lascivious Witch. Camp as Christmas? I'll say.
'Die Meistersinger': Royal Opera House, London, 3pm, today (020-7304 4000), Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 4.30pm, Wed (0121-345 0600).
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