, Tuesday 5 September 2006
Tom Service
Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Edinburgh, 2 September 2006
Brian McMaster's farewell after 15 years in charge of the Edinburgh international festival was a star-studded concert performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Robertson. As a celebration of McMaster's tenure - which has been longer than any previous director of the festival - this could hardly have been a more lavish present to himself, but on its own terms, it was a more convincing performance of this gargantuan work than you often see on the operatic stage.

Its heart was Robert Holl's Hans Sachs, a performance that grew in stature throughout the drama. Holl was in magnificent voice, but it was the way he embodied the character of Wagner's wise cobbler that was astonishing. Holl was as adept in the comedy of his scenes with Andrew Shore's conniving - and superbly sung - Beckmesser as in his moving soliloquy in the third act, and he made Sachs a man of infinite patience and integrity. He also registered his sadness at losing Eva to Walther, lamenting the passing of his youth. Holl seemed released by not having a staging or directorial conceit to work against. This was the Sachs, you sensed, he has always wanted to sing, and his final paean to the traditions of the Meistersinger was overwhelming, capped by the tumultuous power of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus.

McMaster obviously had fun with the casting of the other Masters, genuine master-singers of a previous generation, including John Shirley-Quirk, Jeffrey Lawton and John Robertson. But there was another typical McMaster touch in developing young singers: tenor Jonas Kaufmann sang his first Walther, and even if he sounded strained by the third act, there was enough evidence that he will be ideal casting for Wagner's wide-eyed knight in the future. Toby Spence was a brilliantly realised David, and Hillevi Martinpelto created an innocent Eva, all of them partnered by the supple playing of the BBCSSO. But the evening belonged to Holl, as complete a dramatisation of Sachs as you can imagine.

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