A festival setting, a summer’s day, a performance of Meistersinger: what more could the English operagoer want? Having triumphed with Tristan und Isolde, its first Wagner, in 2003, Glyndebourne has now progressed to the same composer’s epic midsummer comedy. The sense of well-being at Saturday’s season opener seemed a just reward for taking on such a huge challenge on the Sussex Downs.
If commercially it was a preordained success, artistically it barely registered. In 35 years’ acquaintance with Meistersinger, this was by far the slowest, dullest, most insipid I have seen. Apparently oblivious to the composer’s instruction to take the music at a “moderately moving” pace, Vladimir Jurowski holds up each phrase for inspection, polishes it, presents it for our admiration – then proceeds to do the same with the next, and the next. He may knock the bombast out of the music, but his tempi suck the life out of it too, stretching the singers’ capacity to breathe.
Wagner’s long dialogues and introspective monologues need to be sewn into a seamless arc if the structure of each act is not to sag: here they go on forever.
David McVicar’s chocolate box staging, designed by Vicki Mortimer, is hardly more inspiring. Bonnets, breeches and Biedermeier interiors proclaim an early 19th-century Nuremberg, cradled beneath the arches of a baroque-Romanesque canopy that serves no function beyond the purely decorative. This is Meistersinger as costume drama, sprinkled with circus acts and generic dances of the thigh-slapping variety. Did McVicar direct this idea-free Meistersinger in his sleep? There is not the slightest attempt to probe beneath Wagner’s deceptively benign surface.
Where a seasoned ensemble could have lent character, Glyndebourne’s cast seems to have stepped out of a theatrical kindergarten. Some voices are inadequate. Marco Jentzsch’s Stolzing is a Prussian stuffed shirt, Anna Gabler’s Eva an underpowered sketch. Gerald Finley’s Sachs takes time to find his stride but reaches a well-sustained climax. Only Johannes-Martin Kränzle’s Beckmesser and Michaela Selinger’s Magdalene are properly inside their parts. The show is so inoffensive as to be tasteless.