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Video review: Gerald Finley first of many attractions in Glyndebourne Meistersinger release

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Gerald Finley leads a strong cast in Die Meistersinger, filmed at Glyndebourne last year (Alastair Muir photo).

The Glyndebourne Festival’s 2011 production of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger is so bright and lush and traditional that I had to pinch myself that I hadn’t dreamt my way backwards in time.

Director David McVicar and conductor Vladimir Jurowski do the 1868 opera full justice, cramming it into the relatively cozy quarters at the summer festival’s hall without making either the stage action or the music feel crowded or overwhelming. Paule Constable’s lighting is bright, bringing out colour where so many current opera productions focus on charcoal greyness.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra, somehow able to play in the small pit, sounds lush and exciting.

The singing cast, which includes Canadian baritone Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs, is excellent (although I would have preferred less of a country bumpkin and more of a honeyed tenor than Marco Jentzsch as Walter von Stolzing).

McVicar has brought the action forward a couple of centuries from the Renaissance into what looks like the early 19th century. Aside from the fact that guilds like Wagner’s Mastersingers of Nuremberg were long gone by then, nothing about the setting feels out of place.

The director is good at capturing a sense of real human emotion in this complex, three-hour opera, where crowd scenes jostle for attention with the amorous aspirations of the main characters. Finley, in prime voice, always finds a way to add nuance to Hans Sachs’ shifting fortunes.

The biggest star here, is of course, Wagner’s gorgeous music, as big and colourful as the sets and the personalities on stage. This is a production worth savouring by Wagnerites and newcomers alike.

The two-disc Blu-Ray version I watched includes two little featurettes, one introducing the main cast and the other providing some background on the interesting historical connections between Glyndebourne  founder John Christie and Bayreuth, and how the very first operatic music to be performed at the Christies’ gorgeous country house was the third act of Die Meistersinger.

The Opus Arte label is responsible for this release. Its website is out of commission right now, but you can find all the details, background as well as audio samples at the Glyndebourne site, here.

After praising the production’s bright colours, I offer up a sample of Finley at his best — in the dark:

John Terauds


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