Having survived weeks of great financial turmoil, and having now finally secured funding for the next couple of years (though under strict guidelines and restrictions) the English National Opera brings Wagner’s tribute to art to the heart of London, reminding us of the importance it holds in our society – and perhaps making a stand for its own existence as a company?
This production of The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is fast-paced and charming. Wagner’s ‘light’ opera, including an Act III in which you fit the entirety of La Boheme, is as much a marathon as any of his epics. Originally a Welsh National production with Bryn Terfel as the central character Hans Sachs, this ENO version is a transfer with a stellar team making up the cast.
An unwell Nicky Spence, in the thankless role of David, sang extremely well even under the circumstances, with an agile and bright tenor voice that is going places. Gwyn Hughes Jones’s beautifully controlled and shimmery tenor voice sings the role of the poet knight Walther von Stolzing, with some gorgeous passages to show it off. Rachel Nicholls produces a full-voiced Eva with youthful tone and a portrayal that suits the part very well. Andrew Shore, ever on form, revels in his jealous and almost buffo role as Beckmesser, a trying part that is deftly characterised and sung. Iain Paterson never wavers as Hans Sachs: a rich and deep bass, his voice rings out filling the Coliseum’s lofty ceiling. He holds the drama and the characters together, guiding us through this grand work.
The only negative is that at times the lighting is a bit patchy and the set too looks a little ‘cardboard cut out’, except for Hans Sachs’s shop, which displays a beautiful little mis-en-scene. The huge tapestry, full of the faces of German art, opens the opera and reinforces Richard Jones’s directorial vision of ‘art above all’ in this, his twenty-fifth year working at ENO.
We are all very sad to see Edward Gardner leave ENO this year, because at the helm he brings so much out of the orchestra and Wagner’s music in a vibrant and masterful display as conductor. The singing is the prime reason you should see this production and as a visual spectacle it also holds up. Jones’s wall of German artists is both a testament to the country’s great artistic achievements and an inspiration to the next generation of artists around the world, as well as for ENO and for its future.
The Mastersingers of Nuremberg plays at the London Coliseum until 10 March. For more information and tickets, see the ENO website.