Thursday, December 09, 2010

Rigged Contest

Sam Shirakawa was in Berlin couple of weeks back to catch a performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger:

Komische Oper Berlin
27 November

You might make a case for claiming that the sets are the real stars in Andreas Homoki's new production of Die Meistersinger at the Komische Oper in Berlin. Designer Frank Philipp Schlößmann has constructed a group of angular, house-like shapes that all but dance around the stage to form, in turn, the interior of St. Katharine's Church, Beckmesser's box, the street outside Hans Sach's home, as well as its interior, and the perimeters of the festival grounds. They also function to represent various states of order and disarray, as the master singers and their most prominent member grapple with Stolzing, the newcomer and challenger of the status quo. In the last seconds of the final tableau, the stage is left empty: a new world where the slate is wiped clean. The conceit is tidy, unobtrusive, and it works.

The singing also worked on 27 November. Up To a Point. All the leads were in fine form throughout the first two acts. Tómas Tómasson may look a bit young to portray the elder statesman Sachs, but his baritone has Brendel's warmth and the much-missed McIntyre's amplitude. Marco Jentzsch has developed significantly, since I first heard him as Stolzing more than a year ago. He is also very tall, dark and good-looking: Superstardom is not out of the question. Dimitry Ivashchenko is a surprisingly lyric Pogner, though a line here and there in his first act statement to the masters suggests that certain title roles in the Russian repertoire are well within his scope. Günther Papendell projects out-size resonance as Kothner.

Ina Kringelborn is a bit brazen in showing Eva's affection for Sachs, but her bright, focussed soprano can turn anyone's head. Karolina Gumos' lustrous mezzo soprano laces the Quintet with elegance.

She is partnered admirably by Thomas Ebenstein as David. His is one of the more distinctive tenor voices that I've heard in a while -- not the souped-up Irish tenorino sound that's becoming increasingly associated with the role. Its titillating burr brings Florez to mind, but Ebenstein's way with arching the line augurs middle Verdi. Tom Erik Lie is hilarious as Beckmesser -- Homoki's finest character concept in this production -- though many in the audience didn't seem to get it. Lie's mincing mannerisms, pipe-thin figure, long hair and spindly legs serve to make him seem like a fugitive from Tim Burton's Corpse Bride trying desperately to be cast in an Ed Wood production. Commendably, Lie sings the role straight on, never distorting Beckmesser's music.

Earlier I said, Up To A Point. At the performance I attended, everything vocal was fine up to the composing lesson of the third act. That's when Jentzsch started losing steam and Tomasson started losing his voice. By the end of the Song Contest, it was clear that the competition had been fixed: Beckmesser should have won. Tomasson was so low on petrol that he was articulating most of the notes above middle C an octave lower. Such are the incidents that make opera the most pitiless among the performing arts.

To the credit of the near-sellout audience, politeness reigned at the curtain calls.

Patrick Lange's tempi are brisk but attractively flexible in the lyric passages. The orchestra and chorus were in excellent form for him and performed with the kind of unforced grandeur that, as I've said often, only superior German musicians can conjure up in Wagner.

There is still one more performance of Meistersinger at the Komische Oper in Berlin this season.

©Sam H.

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