The Scotsman
Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Edinburgh, 2 September 2006
Wagner was desperately keen that his sole venture into the field of comic opera should be a success
MAGNIFICENT Mastersingers! Wagner was desperately keen that his sole venture into the field of comic opera should be a success. More than that, it would be easy enough to argue that it is the greatest opera ever written.

Just over halfway through work on his Ring cycle he broke off to compose Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger, setting the latter in 16th century Nuremberg and weaving its various incidents around the key figure of poet-cobbler Hans Sachs.

Because the musical content is constructed on symphonic principles that constantly develop its many themes, the work is eminently suitable for performance in the concert hall.

The orchestral score is full of interest throughout.

David Robertson and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra took obvious pleasure in their glowing account of it.

The various choral sections benefit from larger numbers of singers being able to take part than would be possible on the operatic stage.

Edinburgh Festival Chorus brought a new perspective to the big moments - such as the assembly of the whole cast for the outdoor song contest that concludes Act III.

Without becoming involved in storyline details here, the underlying message Wagner wished to convey in his words and music is about keeping an open mind when something new and unfamiliar comes along. Walther's music represents the element of modernity and Sachs' attitude shows understanding of it.

As Hans Sachs, Robert Holl sang magnificently and portrayed the character well as a fair and open-minded judge of innovation.

At the other end of the scale, Andrew Shore's Sixtus Beckmesser - Nuremberg's Town Clerk - brought out the narrow-minded spitefulness of one who not only has a closed mind but also is predictably willing to rubbish anything new or unfamiliar.

Toby Spence presented Sachs' apprentice David with youthful verve and humour.

The amusingly mixed-up singing lesson he offers to Walther in the second scene went particularly well.

Wendy Dawn Thompson, as his girlfriend Magdalene, had already made an excellent impression in the opening ensemble.

The part of Walther involves having to sing the prize song twice. Jonas Kaufmann gave a very fine account of the role and took sensitive care to offer subtle differences of interpretation in the various repeats.

Hillevi Martinpelto dealt creditably with the complexities of the part of Eva.

In addition to the Nightwatchman [Paul Whelan] and Veit Pogner [Matthew Rose], nine more male soloists sang in the various ensembles that feature Mastersingers' deliberations.

It would be hard to think of a more wonderful send-off for retiring Festival Director Sir Brian McMaster.

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