Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Edward Gardner
English National Opera Chorus and Orchestra
21 February 2015
Coliseum London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsIain Paterson
Veit PognerJames Creswell
Kunz VogelgesangPeter Van Hulle
Konrad NachtigallQuentin Hayes
Sixtus BeckmesserAndrew Shore
Fritz KothnerDavid Stout
Balthasar ZornRichard Roberts
Ulrich EißlingerTimothy Robinson
Augustin MoserStephen Rooke
Hermann OrtelNicholas Folwell
Hans SchwartzJonathan Lemalu
Hans FoltzRoderick Earle
Walther von StolzingGwyn Hughes Jones
DavidNicky Spence
EvaRachel Nicholls
MagdaleneMadeleine Shaw
Ein NachtwächterNicholas Crawley
The Independent

A world-class ensemble production

Conductor Edward Gardner holds Wagner’s great webs of polyphony – and the complex musical interactions on stage – in masterly balance

ENO desperately needed a hit after its recent managerial troubles, and Richard Jones’s revival of his Welsh National Opera production of Die Meistersinger comes perfectly on cue.

Apart from Nicky Spence’s charismatic David, no single voice may leap out as world-class, but this is a world-class ensemble production, and the most convincing realisation I’ve ever seen of Wagner’s subtly-nuanced affirmation of the power of love and creativity.

Ravishingly lit on the simplest of sets, this is at once Nuremberg 1868 and a timeless reflection of German culture, with little swoops into surrealism. There’s no weak link among the soloists, with Rachel Nicholls’s Eva, Madeleine Shaw’s Magdalena, and James Creswell’s Pogner all strongly sung and vividly characterised; Andrew Shore’s Beckmesser is a brilliant study in delusional narcissism, and Gwyn Hughes Jones’s sweetly-sung Walther is an ideal fit with the musical and dramatic demands of his part.

But this is pre-eminently Iain Paterson’s evening: his cobbler-poet Sachs commands the stage with a combination of raffishness and delicacy, turning the problematic composition of the winning song into a believable event – indeed Jones’s great achievement is to make the entire opera convincing.

The choruses of apprentices and burghers are deftly marshalled, and conductor Edward Gardner holds Wagner’s great webs of polyphony – and the complex musical interactions on stage – in masterly balance.

Michael Church | 10 February 20114

The Guardian

Richard Jones’s 2010 production of Wagner’s great comedy has transplanted from Welsh National Opera to London more convincingly than anyone could have dared to hope. Redirected by Jones for English National Opera and now sung in English, it has a lighter touch than one remembers from Cardiff. And, where the original staging seemed built around Bryn Terfel’s commanding, larger-than-life performance in the central role of Hans Sachs, it now seems much more a rounded company achievement, one of which ENO, the target of so much unjustified and unnecessary criticism in recent weeks, can be extremely proud.

At the Coliseum, Iain Paterson is Sachs; his voice may lack the fabulous velvety ease of Terfel, and that fathomless security in the lower register, but Paterson brings an authentically heroic sound and authority to the higher reaches, coupled with a clarity of diction that makes his monologues compelling. There’s a sense of a real person in his portrayal of the cobbler – a troubled man, the natural outsider, who has gained the respect of his peers through his achievements as an artist, but who is still young enough to realise he will be disappointed in his private life. Such a character fits perfectly into Jones’s careful, understated study of social class and the way in which the society of the opera is stratified (even though the mastersingers themselves take such pride in being a classless organisation).

Everything about the production seems sharper, more focused than before. With a few deliberate anachronisms, Paul Steinberg’s designs and Buki Shiff’s often sumptuous costumes depict Nuremberg at the time of the opera’s premiere (1868), but that depiction ranges between almost cartoonish stylisation (the Liberty-print roofs for the street scene of the second act) and meticulous naturalism (the ordered busyness of Sachs’s shop in the third). There are moments of typical Jones surrealism and humour, too – the Nightwatchman (Nicholas Crawley) has more than a touch of the grim reaper; Walther (Gwyn Hughes Jones) gets haunted by a parade of mastersingers wearing song-marking forms over their heads, and the townspeople appear for the second-act “riot” in a splendid array of nightwear.

There’s such skill in the way that all this detail is put on stage, such care put into every performance. Hughes Jones is an ardent, tremendously plausible suitor – played as an older man than usual, which makes Sachs’s unrequited passion for Eva the more touching – while the object of their affections, Rachel Nicholls, gains in assurance as the evening goes on, and launches the third-act quintet with exactly the quiet intensity it needs. James Creswell seems almost luxury casting as Pogner, his singer is so radiant, while Nicky Spence’s David is the perfect blend of impulsiveness and serious ambition; his love for Magdalena (Madeleine Shaw) seems totally truthful. There is Andrew Shore’s Beckmesser, too, full of comic touches that might be his own perfectly judged additions, but which chime perfectly with Jones’s treatment of the character, which is always humane, never cruel.

Binding all this together musically is conductor Edward Gardner. He launches the daunting score with a wonderfully paced and generously phrased account of the overture, and maintains that balance between grandeur and intimacy for the next six hours without faltering, and with fabulously committed singing and playing from the ENO chorus and orchestra. It’s one of the best things he’s done at the Coliseum – which is saying a great deal – and puts the seal on an inspiring evening.

Andrew Clements | 8 February 2015

The Telegraph

The greatness of this wonderful production lies not in its human warmth, gentle comedy or supremely stylish execution – all of which it has in abundance. More fundamentally, it profoundly understands that this isn’t (as so many contemporary stagings would have us believe) an opera prescient of Hitler or even Bismarck. It isn’t interested in political ideology at all.

As the collage of faces on the frontcloth reminds us, Wagner’s mind in Mastersingers is focused rather on the achievement of German culture – its wealth of painting, craft, music and literature without which we would all be incalculably the poorer.

What it explores is the relationship of art to community, and the balance necessary between tradition (represented by the masters) and innovation (Walther’s untempered originality). Hans Sachs represents the contradiction between the artist’s needs to detach from ordinary social values and connect with them, while his protégé, Walther, embodies the erotic love and sense of natural beauty that are any creative dreamer’s most fertile inspiration.

There is no better parable of what art means to a society, and in this stringently perceptive yet hugely entertaining staging, wittily designed by Paul Steinberg and Buki Shiff to evoke a picture-book image of old Nuremberg, the director Richard Jones makes its meanings richly clear without desiccating them.

First seen at Welsh National Opera in 2010, the show has transferred magnificently to the Coliseum with a few tweaks and a cast almost all new to their roles. Iain Paterson’s Sachs suggests all the cobbler-poet’s scepticism and impatience, as well as his essential niceness. He sings the music quite beautifully, without a trace of roar or rasp.

The irritant he must flick away is the unimaginative Beckmesser. Andrew Shore makes him less obviously a figure of fun than most – an anxious rather than malicious man, left poignantly vulnerable when literally stripped of his dignity in the Midsummer Night riot. What hope can he have against Walther’s romantic lyricism, sung with such luscious Italianate ardour by Gwyn Hughes Jones?

Rachel Nicholls is a spirited Eva, rapturous in her appeal to Sachs and exquisitely poised when she launches a finely blended account of the dawn quintet. Nicky Spence and Madeleine Shaw have irresistible charm as David and Magdalene, and all the masters are sharply and endearingly characterized. Superb choral singing brings a lump to the throat in “Wach’auf”.

Edward Gardner conducts a young man’s interpretation – low on pomp and grandeur, high on fun and lyricism. The second act flows like honey, the third explodes with joy. With an extra cheer raised for the excellent and audible translation, this is a total triumph for beleaguered ENO: will it prove a game changer?

Rupert Christiansen | 8 February 2015


English National Opera is making a stand against its current misfortunes with Richard Jones’s inventive and wittily profound staging of Wagner’s The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. It originated with Welsh National Opera in 2010, and is now taking its first bow in London. It’s one of Jones’s most perceptive and affectionate productions.

Jones, adept at bending time and period, is here at his sharpest, viewing the opera from the 1860s, the period it was composed, back to a quaint, idealised Renaissance Nuremberg, the setting put in a contemporary context by the first thing we see during the Prelude – a front curtain covered in images of great German and Austrian artists through the ages gazing confidently out at us. Jones uses it not only to re-visit the cycle of artistic creation and decay but also to defuse the Holy German Art moment that the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs celebrates at the end of the stage-work, which has often caused directorial embarrassment over its nationalism and perceived anti-Semitism.

Buki Smith’s excellent costumes neatly lay down the idea of the Nurembergers re-enacting their antique heritage for the midsummer song contest, and a compulsive need for order settles over the whole production. Jones’s signature love of big patterns and precisely drilled choreography play a significant role in keeping the disorder of originality at bay, beefed up by Walther’s vision in Act Two of the Mastersingers blinded by their own inflexible rules.

The characters are just as incisively drawn, with Andrew Shore’s Beckmesser (surprisingly his debut in the role) sympathetic rather than the more familiar grotesque caricature of malice and envy. Shore makes us feel that Beckmesser’s ambition and outraged propriety have a touch of heroism about them, and there is an unusual empathy between him and Hans Sachs.

Sachs is a triumph for Iain Paterson in another role debut. His singing exudes Sachs’s warmth and nobility, and I was completely drawn in by the pragmatic, wry humanity of his portrayal, capped by a superb ‘Wahn’ monologue, and Jones’s direction of Sachs’s assumption of responsibility for the growth of German art is, in its way, as moving as Neil McGregor’s recent Germany exhibition at the British Museum.

In a role bigger than Tristan or Parsifal, Gwyn Hughes Jones was magnificent and tireless as Walther, his expansive and lyrical tenor clinching the passionate high points and building to an ecstatic ‘Prize Song’, and, as with Beckmesser, his revolutionary relationship to Sachs was vividly drawn.

On the Wagner heroine spectrum, Rachel Nicholls’s Eva was nearer to Brünnhilde than, say, gentle Elsa meek and mild, an Eva who knew her own mind with a big, penetrating soprano to match. Even so, I was not prepared for the intensity of her outburst of love and gratitude to Sachs in Act Three; and, crucially, she had the purity of tone for Eva’s mesmerising start to the ‘Quintet’, Jones’s staging of which, in one simple, brilliant piece of direction, explains the point of the whole opera.

Nicky Spence made yet another strong role debut as David, staking out his claim as a potential Mastersinger with powerful singing and bluff comic acting, well matched by Madeleine Shaw’s decisively sung Magdalene. James Cresswell’s Pogner led a strongly-cast line-up of Mastersingers, and the ENO Chorus was on spectacularly good form – its ‘Awake’ in Act Three unforgettable.

You knew from the Prelude that this was going to be a special evening. The ENO Orchestra played superbly and the score was beautifully conducted by Edward Gardner. He showed off the music’s capacity for intimacy and glowing transparency as well as its power; the playing was bursting with character, and, importantly, Gardner was with the singers all the way. This was the Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagner’s dreams, everything coming together to make you fall in love again with this astonishing work. It’s unmissable.

Peter Reed | February 07, 2015 The Coliseum, London


First seen and heard at Welsh National Opera in 2010, Richard Jones’ triumph of a production of Wagner’s magnificent Mastersingers has been transferred with the utmost success to St. Martin’s Lane. Jones has been working with ENO for 25 years (there was a little presentation at the end, and as far as I could see just about all the audience stayed). The staging is fascinating but never clever for the sake of cleverness; but the real triumph was purely musical. The casting was exemplary, and the orchestra were in fine form.

At the helm was Edward Gardner, a young conductor still and with a young man’s idea of Mastersingers. Not all the detail was there, certainly, but what was there was a zeal from the players that gripped from the very first to the very last. Pacing tended towards the brisk, yet nothing was rushed, the expansive Prelude to the Third Act unfolding naturally, the Prelude to the First Act a miniature tone poem. That great, sudden entry of the chorus in the church chorale, surely one of the greatest of coups de theatre, worked so well because of the excellence of the English National Chorus. Nether did the chorus disappoint in its great moments in the final act.

The first striking aspect of the production is the curtain: set designer Paul Steinberg’s a hotchpotch of major figures of Austro-Germanic art: Berg, Bach, Bruckner, Karajan, Furtwängler, Brahms, Schoenberg … the list goes on. Mastersingers is a hymn to Holy German Art, and the frontispiece to the drama reminds us that there is much to celebrate (while at the same time perhaps deflecting the attention from those notorious overtones of Germany’s dark years of the twentieth century). The setting is Nuremberg around the time of the writing of Mastersingers itself. There is a certain decadence to the staging: two of the audience boxes are used to house instrumentalists, and the outsize chorus is impressive to behold as well as to hear. There is also, though, despite the time of the setting, a certain fairytale aspect. Houses have patterned roofs, colours are just a tad larger, brighter than life. While costumes may date the staging, the message seems to be a timeless one. Even the dark side of fairytale is honoured in a weirdly hallucinogenic, nightmare sequence for Walther. So: once upon a time there was a cobbler …

And what a cobbler. ENO Company Principal, bass-baritone Iain Patterson, making his role debut as Sachs, is simply magnificent. An older man, certainly, one imbued with a certain amount of wisdom, this is nevertheless a touchingly human Sachs, prey to the temptations of the flesh while at the same time being a leading light of the community. Patterson’s assumption was all of a reading, considered in all of its aspects, fervent at times, deep, and deeply human, full of compassion, at others. The “Wahn” and “Flieder” monologues were clear highlights of the evening, twin peaks that seemed to bury their way to the core of Wagner’s masterpiece. There was little or no trace of tiring to Paterson’s (pardon the pun) masterly portrayal, just a continuing sense of rightness, his higher register a continuing marvel, his legato a thing of pure joy. Every great Sachs demands a great Beckmesser. Step forward the much-loved Andrew Shore, in fine, even honeyed voice on this particular evening. But much more valuable was Shore’s avoidance of caricature. Harsh, rule-enslaved critic though he might be, Becknmesser is a human being with the seed of enlightenment and redemption (somewhere) within. We follow his shenanigans – even seeing him (nearly) stark-bollock naked, his faults, and nearly everything else, revealed for all to see. He, too, is on a life journey. Gwyn Hughes Jones sings better than I, for one, have heard him in the difficult role of Walther von Stolzing, his youthfully ardent Prize Song vying with Sachs’ great monologues for most memorable moment. But perhaps that particular prize goes to the radiant Quintet, with the Eva, Rachel Nichols, in blazing, electric form. This is Nichols’ ENO debut, and it must rank with one of the greats from that perspective. Fresh of voice as well as outlook, her assumption was nothing less than captivating, her delivery of her part in the Quintet absolutely the equal of this great moment, her feelings for Sachs undeniable and believable given the sheer presence of Paterson. Her comrade-in-church-and-elsewhere, Magdalene, was taken by a fine-voiced Madeleine Shaw, absolutely believable of demeanour, while Nicky Spence was confident in both voice and acting as Sachs’ apprentice, David.

The American singer James Creswell was a fine, strong and characterful Pogner. All of the Mastersingers, in fact, lived up to their name (nice to see Jonathan Lemalu there as Hans Schwarz, too). But one should expect nothing less from a real opera company. To state that the performance is cast from strength is an understatement. Yet the accomplishment is not just that: it is to blend young talent with the established so skilfully that reminds us that, just like the search for a Mastersinger, talent is the way forward. Even the Nightwatchman (dressed just a little bit like the Grim Reaper), was glorious in the hands, and voice, of Nicholas Crawley.

The staging and performance did that rare thing: they did Wagner’s monumental achievement, his hymn to humanity, justice. And for that we should be ever grateful.

Colin Clarke | London Coliseum, 7.2.2015

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
224 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 444 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
Sung in English
A production by Richard Jones (2010)