Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Manon, Royal Opera House, London
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Garsington, Oxfordshire

Welsh National Opera's light touch with a romantic comedy refreshingly ditches tradition and flirts with innovation

The Nuremberg of Richard Jones's Welsh National Opera production of Die Meister- singer von Nürnberg is in thrall to an idealised past.

In its loden green song-school, the art of composition has been analysed and codified by the Guild of Master-singers, with symbols for each theme and variation. Our cobbler hero's shoes are hand-stitched, his lasts hung from the beams of a half-timbered shop that heaves with books, a battered upright piano, a coffee pot. The rallies of more recent history have been airbrushed from this Bavarian theme park. Among the several dozen German – and Austrian-born radicals pictured on the front-cloth collage – Bach, Bausch, Beuys, Brahms and Brecht, Handel, Hanneke and Haydn – the most famous of all is absent. As the townspeople celebrate "holy German art", Sigmund Freud and Billy Wilder are their icons, not Adolf Hitler.

This collage by Jones and designer Paul Steinberg is an interesting response to the problems posed by this opera and its performance history. You might quibble with some of their choices – Schwarzkopf and Karajan were hardly rebels – but as Wilder wrote, "nobody's perfect". The tension between tradition and innovation is what drives Die Meistersinger, a romantic comedy made prolix by nationalistic wind-baggery. Wagner handicaps his dramaturgy by using Sachs (Bryn Terfel) as a ventriloquist's puppet and Walther (Raymond Very) as an idealised version of himself. Yet, these often difficult moments flow smoothly in a production that is all about love – romantic, filial and paternal – and a musical interpretation that values the veiled blues and roses of dusk and dawn over cod mediaeval pomp.

The orchestra starts heavily under Lothar Koenigs, whose skill as an accompanist becomes clear in the exchanges between Eva (Amanda Roocroft) and her father (Brindley Sherratt), Sachs's monologue and the heart-stopping quintet. Koenigs seems more interested in the scent of the elderflower tree and the elusive quality of Wahn (variously translated as illusion, delusion, fantasy or madness) than the hot-housed roulades of Beckmesser's terrible serenade, but the chorus's "Wach' auf!" rings with joy and pride. Paragons and caricatures alike are humanised.

Terfel's Sachs is just a heartbeat too old and irascible to allow himself to respond to Eva's passion. It's a complex, serious interpretation, thoughtful, honest and authoritative. Very's Walther starts well, but then unravels. Roocroft's voice also spreads under pressure, but the delicacy of her acting outweighs vocal concerns. Arrogant and insecure, Christopher Purves's Beckmesser is brilliantly detailed, though the stylistic differences with Terfel are unsettling. The richest sounds come from Sherratt, whose gorgeous legato makes Act I a treat. Andrew Tortise's David is cute enough to compensate for a light voice, Anna Burford's warm, bossy Magdalene a perfect foil. Some wobbly ensemble work from the Mastersingers can be put down to first-night nerves. For a company that has lately valued tradition over innovation, this is a shot in the arm.

A "fourth wall" problem dogs Laurent Pelly's Royal Opera House production of Manon. For Anna Netrebko in the title role, the invisible wall that separates the stage and auditorium is there, her only audience the singers around her. For Vittorio Grigolo (Des Grieux), whose laser-bright voice is directed to the rear of the dress circle, it is not. As to the other three walls (designed by Chantal Thomas), think MDF, an Impressionist blur of zinc-grey skies, and the sprawling rooftops of 1880s Paris.

Two ideas dominate Pelly's staging. The first is the predatory nature of the heterosexual male (not a scene passes without the grope of a gloved hand); the second the perilous career of the demi-mondaine (as expressed in the steeply angled sets). Characterisation appears to have been left to the principals, with mixed results.

Though her French is foggy, Netrebko is captivating, her voice lustrous and flexible, calculation and candour expertly blended. Grigolo is a glamorous Des Grieux but seems more interested in communicating his passion to us than to Netrebko. Call me a sourpuss for not succumbing to crisp diction, chiselled cheekbones and oiled pecs (under a cassock!), but I want a Des Grieux who cannot take his eyes off his lover. William Shimell and Russell Braun offer suave support as De Brétigny and Lescaut, while Christophe Mortagne, Simona Mihai, Louise Innes and Kai Rüütel sparkle as Giullot, Poussette, Javotte and Rosette. In the pit, Antonio Pappano expends a lot of energy on Massenet's frothy overture and wrings guilty sensuality from the faux-Baroque suspensions of the Saint-Sulpice scene.

Daniel Slater's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream is set in an enchanted attic of dusty bedroom and nursery furniture (designer Francis O'Connor). The fairies (Trinity Boys Choir) are dressed in tattered military uniforms, guarding Tytania (Rebecca Bottone) from Oberon's (James Laing) wrath. Mark Wilde's Snout/Wall sports a stained mattress, through which Neal Davies and Pascal Charbonneau bill and coo as Pyramus/Bottom and Thisbe/Flute. From the first, yawning glissando, under Steuart Bedford's elegant beat, to the four lovers' (Katherine Manley, Anna Stéphany, Andrew Staples and George von Bergen) sentimental education and the Rude Mechanicals' "tedious, brief tragedy", Garsington Opera's final production in its home of 21 years is faultless: musically refined, funny, perceptive. As Tytania and Oberon are reunited, the fairies reappear in pyjamas – children now, not foot soldiers in an adult war. A happy ending indeed.

'Die Meistersinger': (02920 636464) to 3 Jul, then touring; 'Manon': (020-7304 4000) to 10 Jul; 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (01865 361636) to 2 Jul

Next Week:

Anna Picard considers Ian Page's completion of Mozart's Zaide

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?