Saturday, February 11, 2012

Just One Mastersinger

Tomlinson Wins the Prize but not the girl

We all know that Wagner's Mastersingers of Nürnberg is about a singing competition. At Covent Garden on Monday 19 December there was one clear winner: Sir John Tomlinson, who proved himself again to be a National Treasure. He is surely the Wagnerian bass of our time. He is in his late sixties and the voice is a bit grizzled but he is a 'passed' master not a past-master. This is a voice of ripe maturity, seasoned and mellowed, every note a joy. He played Pogner the father who generously gives his daughter Eva to be the prize of the Eurovision competition of 1868.

Second prize goes to the chorus of the Royal Opera House, director, Renato Balsadonna, flexible, well-tuned and fresh. Elsewhere there was a shortage of beautiful vocal sound. Where have all the good singers gone? Of the later Wagner operas this is the one into which he poured most melody but the score needs beautiful and meaningful singing; this performance lacked that vital commodity. The voice of the Walther, Simon O'Neill, was accurate but dry and reedy, dressed all in white with a vulgar cod-piece, he tended to resemble a pregnant blancmange. Eva, Emma Bell, looked pretty but made too few pretty sounds. Hans Sachs, Wolfgang Koch, dominated in the final 'Honour your German Masters' scene but elsewhere lacked charisma, although note perfect, and he didn't look good: costume unsatisfactory, too young. Peter Coleman-Wright sang well and in time will surely fill in more of Beckmesser's character but at least he was a plausible town clerk. There were good cameos from Robert Lloyd as the Night Watchman and Donald Maxwell as the baker Köthner.

Antonio Pappano conducted in ship-shape fashion without reaching any great heights. Graham Vick's production was blessedly straightforward and concept-free. Richard Hudson's Nürnberg dollhouses were again on show. The Act Two riot was just that: a riot; all in all, an enjoyable evening but not one to equal past performances. Still there was the chorus ….. and the great Tomlinson.

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