Poetry and Dreams
11/13/2018 - & November 17, 19, 22, 2018
Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Natalie Aroyan (Eva), Nicholas Jones (David), Dominica Matthews (Magdalene), Stefan Vinke (Walther von Stolzing), Michael Kupfer-Radecky (Hans Sachs), Warwick Fyfe (Sixtus Beckmesser), Luke Gabbedy (Fritz Kothner), John Longmuir (Kunz Vogelgesang), Joshua Oxley (Balthasar Zorn), Kanen Breen (Augustin Moser), Robert Macfarlane (Ulrich Eisslinger), Andrew Jones (Konrad Nachtigall), Michael Honeyman (Hermann Ortel), Gennadi Dubinsky (Hans Foltz), Richard Anderson (Hans Schwartz)
Opera Australia Chorus, Anthony Hunt (Chorus Master), Orchestra Victoria, Pietari Inkinen (Conductor)
Kasper Holten (Director), Dan Dooner (Revival Director), Mia Stensgaard (Set Designer), Anja Vang Kragh (Costume Designer), Jesper Kongshaug (Lighting Designer), Signe Fabricius (Choreographer), Matthew Barclay (Assistant Director)
(© Jeff Busby)
An essentially slight plot of “boy meets girl” set against a local singing competition belies the enormity of Wagner’s only comedy. The expansive splendour of Germany’s cultural, literary and musical heritage is a platform for the composer to construct a treatise on change, tradition and the power of self-interest. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg becomes then, a massive canvas upon which Wagner paints loving portraits of artistic conventions imbued with equally doting studies of the central characters, their loves, wants and foibles.
Nothing of the immensity of the opera is lost in Opera Australia’s premier of its new co-production, first seen in London in 2017. The orchestra is greatly expanded as for all of Wagner’s works; the Chorus seems to have gathered together every musician at the company’s command; the sheer size and scope of the revolving set; hundreds of opulent period and modern costumes; dozens of dancers, supernumeraries and aerial artists and not least, the fifteen principal singers. This is no small-scale undertaking and Opera Australia brought it off with polish and confidence.
Kasper Holten’s re-imagining of the plot was his final contribution as Artistic Director of The Royal Opera. Nürnberg is a gentleman’s club. Uniformed, wood-panelled, bound by secret rules and resistant to any form of change much less the presence of an outsider; it is pre-occupied with preserving itself and reinforcing its loyalties. The set by Mia Stensgaard is unarguably German; variously resembling a cathedral choir, a town hall or registry office. It revolves both around the stage and as a tumbling cylinder during the monstrous bacchanalia of the Johannesfest celebrations at the conclusion of Act 2. Less easily understood is the reverse of the set where we are transported backstage at a massive theatrical event during Act 3. Anja Van Kragh’s costume designs complete the plush visual spectacle with huge variety and time-shifts from medieval to modern.
As something of a partner-piece for OA’s Ring Cycle (2013 & 2016), this production re-unites Maestro Pietari Inkinen with German heldentenor Stefan Vinke in a collaboration which showcases the overall strength of the company and the male principals in particular. Having originally scheduled James Johnson (2016’s Wotan) to sing Hans Sachs, the company have twice had to re-cast the role, ending with German baritone Michael Kupfer-Radecky as only the second non-Australian performer in the roster.
Maestro Inkinen returns to Melbourne a firm favourite. Warmly greeted at the beginning, he was received with cheers reminiscent of a football final or pop concert at the curtain calls. He brings a calm, authoritative understanding of Wagnerian nuances into an orchestral performance which flowed luxuriantly throughout. Tempi and volume were varied and intricate, seeming to float just under the singers. The glorious cellos and basses deserve particular mention for the subtlety and surety of their performance. The effusive audience response for the orchestra is testament to the special place this wonderful band hold in Melbourne’s heart.
Preparation of the Opera Australia Chorus by Anthony Hunt was nothing less than superb. Clarity of diction, laser accurate musical entrances, constantly audible division between the vocal registers and sheer quantity of sound were matched with marvellous on-stage presence and individual acting performance to create a crowning achievement for the ensemble.
Stefan Vinke is a first rate Wagnerian whose reputation and engagements around the world attest to his abilities. His voice is clarion clear and he modulates it with rapid movements through the rich chest notes to a brilliant, silvery top. His was an outstanding performance which judged perfectly his ensembles with the other principals and created a gorgeous combination with the Eva sung by Australian soprano Nathalie Aroyan. Ms Aroyan’s vocal strength and acting abilities were evident throughout the opera. She has a powerful instrument which is capable of reaching bell-like highs and plunging seamlessly into a dark and velvety lower register. We can eagerly look forward to her future appearances with OA.
As Hans Sachs, Michael Kupfer-Radecky brought extensive experience in the role and a beautiful if sometimes quiet voice to this production. He is an accomplished singing-actor who gave a solid performance which was well received.
Returning to Wagner for OA after his triumph as Alberich in 2013 and 2016, stalwart baritone Warwick Fyfe produced the performance of his career as the ever-complaining, wheedling Beckmesser. The immensity and power of his voice juxtapose against the snivelling small-mindedness of his characterisation. Mr Fyfe loves a comic turn and this portrayal is a masterpiece which highlights his astonishing stagecraft. The audience response was close to hysteria as he feigned surprise during his ‘in-character’ curtain call.
Without doubt, the revelation of the night was the striking performance by young Australian tenor Nicholas Jones as David. He has a dazzling voice, previously utilised in minor roles but now allowed to shine. His athletic and strapping physique imbued his character with courage and audaciousness and augmented his stupendous singing with captivating acting. This is a young man to watch and to await with high expectations his next major role with the company.
The overall strength of this production lies with the depth and vigour of the male voices in OA. Daniel Sumegi as Pogner and Luke Gabbedy as Kothner gave sterling performances. So too did the other male parts and the ever-reliable mezzo Dominica Matthews as Magdalene.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is an immense achievement for Opera Australia: a triumph of partnership with a prestige company like The Royal Opera; a challenge for the audience to wrestle with the massive Wagnerian masterpiece; and, a stunning showcase for the depth of talent and ability within the company.