Monday, 19 July 2010


I'd planned to be ensconcing my bum and hair at the Royal Albert Hall for the final performance but mice, men and best laid plans had a convention and discussed matters thoroughly with the outcome being I ensconced my backside and hair in an armchair, pipe in mouth and maroon slippers on feet at 4pm. By 4.02pm I was donning trousers and shirt to fend off tiny clinkers that were sizzling on my skin. By 4.06pm I remembered I hadn't eaten a morsel since 11.48am so I trotted off to the kitchen to slave over a hot stove. I decided to watch the 7pm BBC4 broadcast instead.

At 6.58pm, backside and hair once more ensconced, pipe in mouth, slippers on feet, clothes on body and finger poised over the record button on DVD remote. Up popped BBC4, down went finger, up went cry of, "Why aren't you recording?" followed by frantic button pushing…

Okay readers, he's off on one again so put upon monkey is taking over before he bores you with every tiny detail he can dredge up. I've accompanied my supposedly more intelligent owner with the opposable thumb to a couple of the Meistersinger performances at WMC so I know roughly what he'll want to say in half the time he'd take to say it.

It seems a long time since that first show, and longer still to the beginning of opposable thumb boy's fascination with Meistersinger, making Saturday's Prom a farewell of sorts to the piece. A farewell, that is, to WNO's take on the piece. Quite a few feelings were floating around the room as Stephen Fry appeared on the screen – but most of them were wanting the company to do themselves justice. After such an acclaimed run it would have been a shame if the only televised performance had fallen flat.

The tiniest of breath holds pffted out of existence as Lothar Koenigs pressed the PLAY button on the orchestra and a sense of calm took over the room – especially since I'd taken over the remote and pressed the correct button. OTB had been pressing the red digital button.

The immediate difference between Saturday's Prom and the WMC performances was of course seeing orchestra, chorus and cast up on stage together – a part of me was pining for some costume action but for reasons beyond my understanding this was to be a concert performance. Not that it was your typical stand and deliver concert that invariably sucks the life out of a performance. With seven full performances, and numerous other dress and piano rehearsals under their belts in recent weeks, the cast went with their characters minus their costumes.

From handily placed informants in the hall I discovered that the BBC sound engineers had done their usual job of distorting a performance – but for once it seemed for the better as the RAH's acoustics were doing their best to mangle things for those inside. I have to admit that the acoustics were a fear of mine before the concert – the RAH isn't thought of as being a place all that friendly to voices and being the size of a James Bond baddie's rocket lair acoustics were always going to be a problem on the evening. Shorter pieces will invariably stand a better chance for singers who can blast away, but given that pacing is key to Meistersinger singing for all you're worth is not really an option over such a length of time. What I heard on TV was more akin to the balance of the WMC performances, without the obvious thrill of being there. Terfel, Purves, Roocroft, Very, Tortise, Burford, Sherratt and Soar were as I heard them in the opera house – with an odd tired note hear and there which is understandable given the length of the run, the hourage of show and size of cow barn they were singing in.

Did it work for me? I would say yes. With bells on. The tingles from the WMC were there with the chorus and orchestra the heartbeat of the performance that allowed the principals to add the colour to the overall work. I'm loathe to highlight specific performances as this is really a work that depends on the work of many, and not a few but Bryn Terfel and Christopher Purves make a wonderful Odd Couple duo. Beckmesser had the obvious advantage of being the easiest of the characters to transport from the staged production and Purves entertained the audience with Beckmesser's smugness - was it me, or has there been a touch of Jack Lemmon in Beckmesser's vocal / nasal clearings throughout the run? Bryn Terfel's continuing work on Sachs was never more evident than in the heartbreaking tone he achieved for Euch macht wird es leicht, mir macht ihr's schwer... in response to the choral power blast he'd recieved of Wach auf - but I dare anyone who caught WNO's chorus not to have been moved to something approaching tears, or at least a sense of electricity dancing through every fibre of your being. But then I would say all of this – wouldn't I? For those of you living in the UK you can judge for yourselves with the BBC4 broadcast on the iPlayer. For those of you living outside the UK, unless you know of someone who could burn you a copy of the BBC4 broadcast you'll have to settle for the BBC Radio 3* broadcast on the iPlayer, and hear exactly why Lothar Koenigs was making this face during Wach auf.

A medley of thoughts…

Big slap on the back goes to WNO's make-up department for their work on the staged show as I was surprised by the age range of the apprentices – but in a way this is also a case of back slapping for the apprentices too as they had me hoodwinked with their voices.

Could the Albert Hall invest in some form of air conditioning? Performers will always build up some sort of central heating when on stage but in all the performances I saw at WMC Bryn Terfel never once came close to losing his voice but it was evident that he was owning the soggiest handkerchief in London on Saturday and that his voice was crying out for less Saharan air – it's bad enough to sing for five plus hours but to have to contend with a mini heatwave is asking a bit much.

Shame on BBC for not showing us an evidently moved Stephen Fry at the end of the evening – it's rare to see unadulterated joy on TV these days. No, TV talent show winners are excluded.

S4C – why oh why?

Best wishes to David Soar as he leaves WNO's Associate Artist programme and heads off to pastures new. The Salzburg Festival and ROH are two of his first stops so things aren't looking too shabby. Looking forward to his Ferrando in next year's Trovatore.

A big thank you to WNO assistant stage manager Katie Jones, and journalist Robert Butler (aka Meistermole) of WNO///3 for their generous insights into the creation of the production.

And that's about it folks – summer is here and WNO will soon go into a brief summer break, and so will I. Whatever you get up to I hope you have a relaxing time before the opening of WNO's new season with Fidelio on the 17th of September.

* Conflicting reports about the radio iPlayer - some outside of the UK can use it while others can't...

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