Hans Sachs’ concluding ode to German art means Wagner’s only “comic” opera has become a political hot potato. A producer who stages it with traditional medieval pomp is accused of ducking the issues raised by German nationalism; treating it as an anticipatory apologia of National Socialism looks like a cheap trick based on questionable hindsight.
Pierre Strosser’s new production finds an admirably neat solution that makes its point without rubbing our noses in the Konzept. He sets it in the 1920s in the same vast, dull red brick tenements that featured in his Wozzeck for the Paris Opera in 1999. This oppressive atmosphere skims off much of the Teutonic midsummer jollity and provides an undercurrent of unease that keeps us on edge. When is somebody going to unfurl a swastika? It doesn’t, fortunately, happen. Instead, Strosser turns Sachs into a Cassandra whose final peroration is to be understood as a plea in favour of art above politics. It falls on deaf ears: Walther and Eva don’t even stay to listen and the Mastersingers file out in protest. The rest is in the history books.
Albert Dohmen’s superb Sachs, showing off his usual resilient metal in his first attempt at the role, bares his soul as the lonely widower before this stunning display of pessimism. Anja Harteros
is the generously sung
Eva, Toby Spence a model David and Dietrich Henschel’s cultured baritone shifts Beckmesser away from the usual braying caricature to an affectionate variation of Roberto Benigni. Klaus Florian Vogt (Walther) has the youth and looks for the part and the vocal stamina to stay the course. Too bad his nasal timbre and mechanical phrasing make him sound like a pop singer on a crossover stunt.
The run is dedicated to the memory of the great Armin Jordan who was to have conducted. Jordan’s Wagner was always supremely fluid, one long tapestry of unforced effects. His replacement, Klaus Weise, finds some of the same transparency in a commendably solid performance that shuns bombast. He helps the Suisse Romande Orchestra to punch above its weight.
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