The supposed final words of Captain Oates as he left Scott’s tent and walked to his death in the South Pole comes to mind when approaching this opera ‘…I may be some time.’ It’s long, one of the longest of the major operas in regular repertory. It does however usually zip along though some of the changes may have the effect of turning this into something of an endurance, for some anyway.

This new production – the first in 20 years – is overwhelmingly Danish in the technical areas, which is fitting as this is Kasper Holten’s final production as Opera Director. Not that this writer detected anything particularly Danish about set and costume designs by Mia Stensgaard and Anja Vang Kragh respectively.

As the curtains open one is taken by the set: it is enormous the centre of which shuffles and revolves as needs require during the performance. The first act takes place in a building that appears to have the geometry of a Masonic temple about it, and taken with Meistersingers costumes of sashes and aprons, gives the impression of a closed shop.

Into this comes Walther, sung by Gwyn Hughes Jones, looking to win the Meistersingers competition and win the hand of Eva sung by Rachel Willis-Sørensen. His initial attempt fails, a victim of traditions and shenanigans by Beckmesser sung by Johannes Martin Kränzle. Attempting to elope, they cause a midsummer riot. All’s not lost though as Walther has a powerful ally in Hans Sachs sung by Bryn Trefel.

Trefel, Kranzle, Willis-Sørensen and Hughes Jones have all sung their respective roles before, so one would expect a degree of comfort with their performances. In the comedic stakes Kranzle’s weasley performance as Beckmasser probably sneaks the garlands but Hughes Jones is a close second with a consistent performance throughout, the highlight of which is his solo and anger at his rejection in act II. Trefel is steady as you go with Sachs as is Willis-Sørensen.

Also, very much worthy of a mention are Allan Clayton and Hanna Hipp who as David and Magdalene respectively are captivating.

Along with the staging there’s also some other changes as Eva disappears out the back at the end after Walther effectively gives up and bows to the Meistersingers rules. Also, the second act is transferred indoors so as we get to it, the midsummer riot, it is apparently in Sach’s head. The scene has a grotesque collection of nightmarish images that is spectacular, technical staging but not entirely sure the logic of it.

It’s ostensibly a comedy but it is actually short on laughs though there’s a clever run of wit throughout as Wagner examines the jousting between the self-interest of the traditional and more chance taking innovators, and this isn’t lost.
The chorus as ever are wonderful, while Sir Antonio Pappano captures the mood straight off from the prelude.

Performances are 15,19, 22,25,28 and 31 March

Photo courtesy of Clive Barda and the Royal Opera House.
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