Opera Now
Neil Jones and Cairnstone Limited 2006
Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Edinburgh, 2 September 2006
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Usher Hall, Edinburgh – 2nd September 2006
For this, the last performance in his tenure as Edinburgh International Festival Director, Brian McMaster had assembled a superb cast and, if this was going to be something of an indulgence, the audience certainly forgave him as the preperformance applause showed. And the aforementioned cast also showed their approval by turning in a magnificent performance.

Like fighter pilots, there are few opera singers who are both old and bold, but two who are engaged the Usher Hall audience in a concert performance of such convincing theatricality that it made you yearn for a full on stage performance whilst, at the same time, almost forgetting this wasn’t one.

The old and bold – if they’ll forgive the former adjective – were Robert Holl and Andrew Shore, in the roles of Hans Sachs and Sextus Beckmesser respectively. Their Act II interchange where Sachs marks Beckmesser’s efforts was easily the highlight of the performance.

Die Meistersinger is, of course, as much a story of love between Walther von Stolzing (sung delightfully by Jonas Kaufmann) and Pogner’s daughter Eva (Hellevi Martinpelto) as the relationship between two local tradesmen, between ‘old-fogyism’ and freedom of expression. And yet Holl and Shore showed that, in pure entertainment terms, ‘old-fogyism’ has quite a bit going for it even if it was the youngsters who touched the heart-strings.

The other Meistersingers were sung by as impressive a line-up of ‘old masters’ as has probably ever been assembled in the UK with William Kendall, John Shirley-Quirk, Jeffrey Lawton, John Mitchinson, John Robertson, Phillip Joll, Glenville Hargreaves and Richard Van Allan.

Matthew Rose was simply splendid as a wonderfully upright, uptight Veit Pogner; his very being just vibrated that a mere von Stolzing was never going to be good enough for his daughter, while Toby Spence was delightfully urchin like as Sachs' apprentice, David. Eva’s nurse, Magdalene, was ably sung by Wendy Dawn Thompson and Paul Whelan made the most of his imposing height to be magisterial as the night watchman.

Sadly, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra gave a disciplined if uninspired performance under the baton of David Robertson, while the Edinburgh Festival Chorus added expert support together with an excellent collection of students from the Alexander Gibson Opera School at the RSAMD appropriately enough singing the roles of the Apprentices.

This was surely a fitting finale to 15 years of McMaster rule and an appropriate choice with its celebration of tradition and renewal.

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