Friday, 28 May 2010

The Professionals

WNO's chorus causes Doyle to lose control over his hair

If I was taller, fitter and with better hand eye co-ordination I could have been a basketball player. But I'm not. I'm shorter than a basketball player's second lowest rib and can't hit the side of a barn with an aubergine at ten paces. But I'm a quick learner and I could have been something special. I'd say a legend. Not that I actually like the game, but hey – I didn't like Wagner until two years ago. Who knows, maybe a year from now this blog could be called HairMan at the Basketball. But don't hold your breath. Unless you've just walked into a kitchen of frying mushrooms – if you do then I urge you to hold your breath until you look like Dizzy Gillespie and get the hell out of there. I dislike mushrooms more than basketball.

Time for some JonesMole Gang twupdates.

Breaking with tradition I'll start off with TJ Twitter today…

Apparently there will be a shake your sexy booty thang dance number if TraviataJones' start to her week is anything to go by – Week has started with a dance rehearsal with Bryn. I wonder if Kevin Bacon will make a guest appearance as Walther's wild brother looking for some outrageous crazy dance kicks?

Whether or not the Bacon does show up at least we know that things will finish before chucking out time at the Pro-Am Knitting Championships' Jim Beam Challenge - we have blocked the whole show, so I can confirm that Meistersinger does end. In our version it's a pretty cool ending... But then I'm biased!

I had to re-read this one twice as I suffered a flashback to when I encountered bright shining lights at midnight in the middle of a New England forest a long time ago – Listening to the first Sitzprobe of Meistersinger this afternoon. Amazing to hear it with a full Orchestra, Singers and Chorus!

Okay, I'm feeling a touch excited now – WNO's chorus has always raised a hair or two on my non-basketball playing body and there are a couple of shindigs in Meistersinger that I'm looking forward to. Among the raising of hair spots could well be Act 3…amazing to hear almost 100 people singing full out!

But how does all this musical action leave TJ Twitter at the end of the week? Hopefully the nationwide shortage of Frappucino's at Starbuck's will have been sorted by the time of the next rehearsals.

So what of the Mole?

He's been playing it smoother than a cyclist's leg with a silk sheet this week with an audio boo extravaganza of boos by Bryn Terfel. We found out that Hans Sachs quite likes singing in German due to the similarities of sound between Deutsch and Cymraeg. But he likes singing in Italiano just a bit more.

But not if it's Rigoletto. If Simon Keenlyside and his understudy become engaged in a Playstation 3 World Cup throwdown there'll be no Singing in the Rain moment with Bryn Terfel coming to the rescue.

Anyway, he has enough on his plate – Hans Sachs has been on the backburner for two or three years…and the last six months has been dedicated religious hard work.

There was one boo that I did disagree with – due to my extensive non-basketball playing career I think that Berbatov hasn't been given the license to roam that he had at Spurs and his play, admittedly languid in anyone's eyes, has suffered as a result. It's a bit like the Veron situation all over again – classy player but not suited to United's style.

Same time. Same place. But not the same week for the next twupdates*.

*Do you think it'll catch on? Neither do I.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Calling all beards!

If you ever mislay the Christmas tree...

You may lack the ability to hold a tune, command the stage or knock up a pair of kitten heels in an afternoon but if you own a beard, and a few good years, you might just get a facsimile of your visage on stage for DMvN.

WNO have put the call out for men who are slightly more mature...preferably with a beard to have their picture taken for the Act 1 portrait gallery in Meistersinger. Follow the blue bricked road for more details including contact information.

But you'll have to hurry – the photo shoot is to take place tomorrow at the Wales Millennium Centre.


If email isn't your thing you can simply pick up the telephone and give the WNO a ring on their Bearded Mature Man Hotline - 029 2063 5000 - but remember that tomorrow, the 27th of May, is the day when the snapping takes place.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Citizen Terfel?

There follows a news flash

A quick recap for those sharing my love of laziness when it comes to scrolling through meandering posts (welcome to Meanderville!) – in addition to being interviewed by WNO for the upcoming DMvN Bryn Terfel last week agreed to answer the best question submitted by the public. After a week of intense speculation the winning entry was...(imagine a drum roll now, or if you want to be more active in this post tap your fingers on your keyboard like a crazy jazz cat jamming with Jools Holland – but only if you aren't doing your banking online of course)...(crazy jazz cat it some more daddyo!)...(oh yeah...take it to the bridge)...(hit me some more!)...

As the man who employs me to type his waffle-laden posts, while only feeding me over ripe bruised bananas, carries on indulging his ludicrous fantasies of musical talent I'll continue with his post and ignore his prattling.

And the winner is...everybody! Bryn Terfel took the time to answer all the questions sent in after rehearsals on Wednesday and interesting listening they make too. If you want to know about the chances of his recording Winterreise one day, the best mangling of his name or which operatic language he feels most at home in I suggest you pop over to MeisterMole's audio boo page. There's even a foray into Match of the Day territory.

One interesting response was that the role he would most like to perform hasn't been written yet – Charles Foster Kane of Citizen Kane fame. Being partial to Orson Welles films I found this a very intriguing answer, and hopefully someone will take up the challenge, as it's a role that this underpaid employee thinks that Bryn Terfel would excel in.

Although the owner of this blog is too distracted at the moment to say so (he now thinks he's the reincarnation of Louis Armstrong but is dap-dap-dapping like an asthmatic frog to tell the truth), his poorly fed employee thinks it was very generous of Bryn Terfel to answer the questions after a long day of rehearsals.

Oh, he's finished his burst of singing now. I'll return you to planet HairMan now…

And one last thing crazy jazz cats – apologies to the fans of Cardiff City and Bayern Munich for my support over the weekend. I've had a rancid run of sporting form so far this year and I should have kept schtum, or supported the opposing teams. But Basso did come up trumps on the Zoncolan, okay, it was a day after he'd lost time on Monte Grappa but...I've just been told by my lowly assistant that this is an opera blog. I suppose he's right for once...

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Professionals

The lads playfully blow up my car after I didn't use them as models for last week's post. Hiya guys! Hope everything's great with you! Can I have my goldfish back please? Have a great weekend!

Dear readers, in response to this warmish summer day I've decided to honour this miraculous event and declare this Frying Friday Fupdate Day! While people have been holding street parties and rushing to hide their buckets of Mudlicious Xtra Thick Factor 10 tanning cream the steaming artistic sweat centre of opera in Wales has continued its work unabated (apologies for the aromatic description). Luckily for us the JonesMole Gang have ignored the popular summer temptation of drinking cheap wine and falling asleep on public transport while wearing Victorian bathing costumes and instead remained at their posts.

The week kicked off with TraviataJones tweeting, fifth week of rehearsals is starting with a Production Meeting. No doubt it will be a Wagner lengthed one! I just hope nobody suggested a recap of events on the Tuesday morning because, We are way into Act Three now. This morning we are finishing off the Beckmesser and Sachs scene in Act 3, Scene 1.

Meanwhile MeisterMole sprang a surprise with, Got a good question to ask Bryn? He says he'll answer the best one after rehearsals on Wednesday. No news yet about the M&S v Calvin Klein debate that gripped the web this week. Whatever the outcome of the Q&A session I'm assuming it took place far from TraviataJones' stomping ground - The shoe shop feels like my second home now! Hmmm, I trust the squatter will have shifted her collection of Heat magazines before opening night or Beckmesser might pilfer one by accident and be singing about how I lost three stone in three months to wear my hot mankini come time for the Prize Song competition.

Der Mole tweeted a handy bit of Meistersinger knowledge during the week – The A-Z guide to Die Meistersinger that appears in WNO's new programme says - under 'L' - that the opera has 60 leitmotifs. This was news to me as I'd spotted barely ****, which meant that my application for the Head of Wagnerian Studies at Bayreuth had to be recalled. I've since sent off my application with a birthday card as der Mole had kindly retweeted this from LA Opera (who are building up to their first ever Ring Cycle) Only 2 more days til Richard Wagner's 197th B-day. How will you celebrate? I'll be cheering on Bayern Munich as they play Inter Milan (and their manager who must not be named), and I think Wagner would be too if he were around. Not sure if he'd also be cheering on Cardiff as they play Blackpool but I'll be doing that as well (even though I am a Swansea fan). And then there's the Giro as Basso, Evans, Vinokourov & co head up Monte Grappa. Erm, sorry – got sidetracked into sporting events there for a second.

Back to Meistersinger! TraviataJones experienced the Act Three Quintet on Thursday, It's beautiful music. Also all brilliant singers... Which helps! Am I jealous? Not really – I'm fighting images of Christopher Purves in a mankini. To close out her week TraviataJones got to tweet, Super productive day at work. Been working with the set designer Paul Steinberg this morning. It's coming together bit by bit! Come back Hans Sachs' cobbling song – all is forgiven!

Before I head off to change out of my bathing costume folks out there might like to know that Richard Jones' recent Lohengrin outing is making an appearance at a DVD shop or online store near you on Monday. Starring alongside, I'm assuming, the Bayern Munich supporting Jonas Kaufmann is 1999 Cardiff Singer of the World winner Anja Harteros. I wonder if they'd like to reprise their roles for Wagner's 200th at the WMC?

Best of luck tomorrow to Cardiff, Bayern, and the Monte Grappa boys and happy 197th to Wagner! I'll return with next week's edition of - The Professionals, starring MeisterMole and TraviataJones at the same time, which is next week. If you hadn't already guessed.

Can I have my goldfish back please?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Ask Bryn about his pants

Calvin Klein or M&S?

Yes, you did read the post headline correctly. MeisterMole has tweeted the news that Bryn Terfel will be answering the best tweeted question after Wednesday's rehearsals. So if you want to ask Bryn about his pants you're welcome to try. If you want to know something else, perhaps his vest or socks situation you may stand a better chance of getting a reply.

Personally I think something opera related would be a safer bet - maybe even something about Meistersinger? You can either tweet your questions to @MeisterMole - or #askbryn. Remember - you only have until Wednesday. And hands of Bryn's pants - that question's mine.

***** Update *****

A bit more (coherent) information for you all, including an extra way to get in touch with Bryn's Inquisitors as nabbed from a WNO Facebook message...

"This Wednesday, Bryn Terfel will be interviewed for during rehearsals from Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg.

Is there a question you would like to ask him? Send your suggested questions to Bryn will be asked the best question suggested."

In Conclusion...and apologies for the length of this post


The Beginning

I would like to think that I'm not an arrogant man, but how else should I think of myself if I thought I could dissect, distil, disentangle the heart of DMvN in a matter of weeks? A while ago (over a year at least) I saw a WNO video promo with Christopher Purves talking about how his preparations for his role as Beckmesser had already begun. Anyone who had seen the trailer could not have mistaken Purves' awareness of the challenge that lay before him. Bryn Terfel has been studying the score in one way or another since at least 2007 (if not longer). And I've been reading the text and listening to it for three weeks. Am I arrogant? I prefer the moniker optimist. You can add stupid if you like.

The first thing that struck me about Meistersinger was its length. You could fit Puccini's Il Trittico inside it and still have time to squeeze in a double bill of Flog It! screaming at the TV, Can't you see the presenter is just patronising you!? With something so long my first instinct was to think squeakily, Couldn't he have trimmed it in places? Wagner isn't alone in draaaaaaaaaaaawing things out – Tolstoy could have done with losing a few hundred pages of War and Peace (if not the whole book – bitchy, moi?) – but credit to Wagner, the scenes never feel overlong or undershort. They seem to be the perfect fit for the situations his characters find themselves in, and given that the action takes place in midsummer I felt this unrushed nature reflected the lethargy that can take hold on summer days. Or perhaps this is wishful thinking? I still think he should have had an ice cream break in Act III.

Part of the reason why Meistersinger succeeds in my eyes is down to the characters, who unlike the power crazed dunderheads of the Ring, and the serially depressed figures in other Wagner operas, are refreshingly optimistic. This is not to say that I necessarily like them. Some are so uptight you could offend them by saying damn and blast! – and others are likely to challenge you to some Marquis of Queensbury action. But each are greedy in one way or another for a form of love (no sniggering at the back), whether it be Veit Pogner's desire to see his daughter offloaded with someone he thinks will be a worthy suitor, the passionate yearnings of Walther and Eva or the equally passionate David and Magdalena. Even poor Beckmesser is trying to get Cupid on his side. This is a celebration of living love, an ocean away from Tristan und Isolde's all devouring vision. It's no coincidence then that in the opera where there are no gods, cursed sailors, grail keepers or swan riding knights that plain old ordinary folk connect with the audience far more easily than characters weighed down by philosophy and symbolism. But what of Hans Sachs? Hmmmmmm. He deserves a paragraph of his own.

Who is Hans Sachs? Cobbler? Poet? Letch? Inept Iago? All four? For me he is the happier brother of the Dutchman – both are looking for love, both fated to fail. But Sachs is living in a DC Comics alternate reality to the Dutchman. P'd off he might be, he doesn't go looking for damnation and broodiness, instead he bites the bullet and sets up the young lovers for their grand finale. As I said in an earlier post, it's the very thought that he's going against his own desires that makes him such an appealing character to me. Normally these older, grizzled types are wily dudes, but good humouredly accepting of their lot. Sachs is wily, but refreshingly aware of what he wants even if he knows deep down that he's whistling in the wind. He even has a bit of a pwditastic Didier Drogba moment! I'm interested to see what Richard Jones makes of him. Chainsaw Sachsmassacre? Hope the front row get plastic macs if the smell of petrol is in the air.

The Middle

Run for the hills, or the next paragraph – I'm discussing the music with characteristic dumbness for a short while. Wagner was never a man to shy away from a tune; the only problem was that he seemed to think a tune took four hours to listen to. Unlike the ragazzi Italiano who reeled off pop music length arias at the drop of a hat Wagner preferred to meld everything into one big whole (okay, I know you know all this but let an amateur pretend he's Stephen Hawking for a while). Thankfully he realised that while this succeeds with the heavier works, it needs a lighter touch with Meistersinger for everything to work and he goes with something (nearly) approaching an Adam and the Ants kind of aria. Not to Holländer levels, but nearly. And I dare anyone in the audience not to be reaching for the hankies when Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein hits your ears. Though you may find Hans Sachs' cobbling song doesn't understand the phrase bugger off after a few days.

And now the bad news. It will come as little surprise to people to learn that the performance history of Meistersinger is a complicated one. It's long been tainted with its association with the Nazi party, especially as it was supposedly a personal favourite of Adolf Hitler. In the context of this knowledge Hans Sachs' final speech becomes an uneasy call to arms. Today it's extremely difficult to question whether Wagner would have approved of the actions taken by his countrymen in an unbiased manner given what we now know of his ridiculous racial views, but the general air of unease I had to confront when I first began to listen to his operas increased greatly when I sat down with Meistersinger. It's one thing to separate Wagner from his work, it's another thing entirely to separate the deaths of millions from one opera. I'm not suggesting that Meistersinger brought about the existence of the Nazi party, but that as I sit and enjoy a recording of it I can't deny the fact that I'm perturbed knowing that men and women who thought little of the annihilation of groups of people they deemed to be inferior would have enjoyed the same music, the same comedy as me. I would hope any decent human being would share this same conflict. If I'm so aware and repulsed by the history surrounding DMvN why have I continued to listen to it? Why am I going to see it? Why haven't I thrown out my CD? Why haven't I torn up my tickets?

I can only give an honest pair of answers.

When the production was originally announced I did seriously question if I should give it a miss. I'll admit that if Bryn Terfel wasn't scheduled to play Hans Sachs I would have been more likely to avoid it. But then again, the more I listened to Wagner's work the more I wanted to hear all of his operas. Even Meistersinger. I probably would have bought the tickets anyway. So my first answer is selfishness.

My second answer has been longer in the making and is to do with ownership. I feel that my initial reaction in wanting to avoid Meistersinger was not unreasonable – but then what about Meistersinger before the Nazi party? It didn't reek of corruption in 1890 or 1909. It was just another Wagner opera. So should we abandon it to a group of horrific people? I don't think we should. Nobody can own a work of art – once it's gone out into the world it's there for everyone. It comes to mean something different to whoever sees it, and it makes no sense to allow ownership of Meistersinger to be solely in the possession of the Nazi party. As people we should never forget Meistersinger's history, but we shouldn't allow it to have only one history. Music is far greater than any one person, any one ideology. Perhaps I'm being overly earnest, too melodramatic – but this is how I've come to see my relationship with Meistersinger. I know its past. I despise fragments of its past. I can only hope it has a better future.

The End

And that's been my journey to Nürnberg. It's been fun. It's been confusing. I've gained a village idiot's grasp of the characters and the plot. The music, as ever, has been beyond my comprehension – and its history all too sadly known to us all. There are still a few more weeks to go until the curtain goes up on the 19th of June and the cast and crew will be working their cotton socks off for us to enjoy the performances. I'm chomping at the bit to see what Richard Jones, Lothar Koenigs and their collaborators onstage and off will come up with. In the meantime I'm going to enjoy listening to it for a few more times, and of course keeping everyone up-to-date with The Professionals (aka the JonesMole Gang).

For those of you who've enjoyed my take on DMvN's plot I'll be repeating the same trick with Rigoletto in a few weeks time to celebrate a fine cast including the role debut of Simon Keenlyside as Rigoletto. But for now, in case you've had too much Wagner on your plate – why not try this as a light refreshment – turn it up loud and pretend you can dance! And thank you all for reading my ramblings.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The Professionals

TraviataJones points out to Bryn Terfel just where he's going wrong

After consulting my consultants I've decided after consultation to move the Twitter updates section from Woolly Warm Wednesday to the vacant Foopdy Fabdy Friday slot.

Tweetily speaking it's been a busy week for the JonesMole gang. MeisterMole has been handily tweeting the existence of WNO's Flickr page where you can see various props for the forthcoming DMvN, including the set of vibrant lyre strumming Han Soloesque figures below. Other highlights include a peek at a Meistersinger medallion and wallpaper that has no place on walls but which company members want the pattern of made into waistcoats. See for yourself if even Derek Zoolander would balk at the idea.

Photo tea leafed from here

Among MeisterMole's tweets there was the worrying Big excitement as cast try out some of Act One on main stage. Bryn and fellow Meisters are also racing to grow their beards. Worrying why? The ten year-old child that isn't so latent in me has been imagining Terfel and co walking around with manure chin packs kept in place by Tesco Finest cling film. Perhaps it's my thoughts that are worrying.

Most enjoyable of all the Mole's burrowings are the audio boos from rehearsals. Among those booing are Christopher Purves (Beckmesser) and Andrew Tortise (David). But my personal highlight is the appearance of TraviataJones who gives an interesting insight into her work. Including a Pavlovian Dog analogy to her response to music. I like my opera, but I think I would tremble if ever these words came from my mouth I'm not quite sure what it's going to be like having a five-hour Wagner in my head.

For TJ there are a few perks to her job, Wow I get paid to sit and listen to Bryn Terfel sing all day long... How lucky am I?! I'll refrain from swearing a reply. But that isn't all - Can't. Stop. Eating. Sweets that Bryn bought us yesterday. Yum yum! I would suggest though that if Bryn's wearing his manure pack people may want to save them until later. Or give them to someone you don't like.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Meistersinger - Act Three - Week Three

And the winner is...?

Sartorial elegance is in the eye of the beholder. For some it's in the cut of a suit. For others it's the quality of the fabric. For myself it's the air work in a pair of inflatable trousers that counts. If the length of the final act of DMvN is anything to go by Wagner was blessed with buns of Rheingold. I shudder to think which region of the periodic table his bladder called home.

Having encountered the final hurdle in DMvN I am worried that a fair few people may miss the ending. It seems slightly topsy-turvy of Wagner, in my unqualified opinion, that after roughly two and a half hours of music he should go and tack on another two hours without an interval. What about the ice cream sellers? Does anyone care about them? Oh, the humanity! But seriously (lower the voice in your mind please) it's inevitable that for some people nature will call and the understandable policy of once you're out you're out comes into play. The result? They will have to see the rest of the action via a TV link. Anyone who has had to watch an opera in this way can attest that although you get to see and hear what's going on inside the hall it's a poor relation of the real thing.

This segues clumsily into the nub of this preamble. It may prove unfeasible to opera houses on this revolving rock of ours, but for the courtesy of patrons barred from re-entry and doomed to orbiting walkways in search of a TV screen, couldn't there be at least one glassed-in viewing area with sound pumped in so that people who've Jack Londoned it for a few minutes can see the performance with their own eyes, and not a camera that shrinks everyone to the size of blurred shrunken fingers?

I know that there would be difficulties in altering the interiors of houses for many reasons, but it would give off the right vibes in my book if an effort were made in this direction. It seems unfair that people who pay to see an opera are penalised because they don't try to surreptitiously pee in a polystyrene cup in public.

Just a thought.

***** Spoiler Warning *****

In Sinatra style I've reached the end of a journey through a drapes department, but I've still got one final song to sing. Ladies and Gentlemen, this one's for you.

The story so far…

Walther von Stolzing fancies playing Guess the Tune with Eva Pogner, daughter of Veit Pogner, Nuremberg's leading expert on Spandau Ballet. Standing in his way is Sixtus Beckmesser – Meistersinger and local council official in charge of bad singing. Also obstacalising Walther's path is the fact that he's not a Meistersinger – a pre-requisite of Veit Pogner for anyone wanting to marry his daughter. Adding leather to the fire is cobbler Hans Sachs, who despite his good intentions towards Walther and Eva makes a mess of things. He's also kinda, sorta, maybya got a thing for Eva. Thrown into the melting pot are the second lovebirds of the piece, David and Magdalena – too poor to afford surnames they are respectively Hans Sachs' apprentice and Eva's serf. At the end of the last act David, getting in touch with his feminine Neanderthal side, caused a medium sized riot when he wrongly suspected Beckmesser of playing Guess the Tune with his squeeze. In the ensuing fracas Sachs foiled an elopement bid by lovebirds # 1, culminating with him kidnapping Walther. Will Eva get her man? Will Beckmesser buy a reinforced lute? Does Hans Sachs ask Walther if he wants a nice Chianti with his fava beans? Read on if you dare…

The third act begins on a tad of a downer beat with Sachs complaining about everyone else, They're all mad but me, is the gist of what a middle-aged cobbler with no kingdom or big bullion bank balance to his name who thinks he has a chance with a svelte twenty something has to say. But a shred of sense escapes his leather sniffing addled mind and he opts out of adding Walther to the menu and begins to coach the young buck in the Meistersingers ways. Cue musical montage with Walther cobbling a hundred pairs of Ugg boots in an hour, sweat dripping off his furrowed brow, but ultimately coming up with a tune that has Sachs nodding sagely and offering to finish off the last pair of boots since he's noticed that Walther has made a right mess of the previous ninety-nine.

Against his doctor's advice, nursing a few broken ribs and a dislocated kneecap, Beckmesser limps into Sachs' workshop – presumably looking to bruise David's fists with his face once more. Luckily for David's knuckles Beckmesser finds the place empty. Deciding to become an outlaw he begins his crime spree by pocketing Walther's song as scribbled down by Sachs. Caught in the act he's surprised that Sachs waves away any royalties and offers the song to him – and the news that he's backing out of the Eva situation.

MGM then take over proceedings and delivers a large supply of Gouda as Walther serenades Eva and Sachs pretends to fix Eva's shoe. Is he distraught? Of course not. He jokingly pretends to be by complaining of his lot and then comparing himself to King Marke from Tristan und Isolde. But he's not bitter. No way is he. Not even if you think about what happens to Tristan at the end of the tale is Sachs not at all feeling put out.

MGM then add some Allgäuer Emmentaler to the Gouda with the finale at the Meistersinger Slam. Beckmesser is given first crack of the whip but his efforts are frankly **** and he storms off leaving the way for Walther to seal the deal and win the prize. This he does, though he still gets a bit huffy but is calmed by Hans Sachs who explains the importance of tradition, culture...Frankly I doubt if any of it registers in Walther's mind.

Ugg. Pass me a boot. Here endeth my journey to Nürnberg. Well, nearly. I'm going to take a few days to let my overall thoughts float to the surface on the piece. In the meantime those in the know continue to work on the show so to keep up with those on the go in the show keep your eyes open for a doe a deer a female deer? Haaaaaans! I need help with my rhymes!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The Professionals

Die hunky trio are shocked at the size of WNO's Red Bull stash

It's Woolly Warm Wednesday – which means it's time for the weekly organic fruit & veg delivery! Oh, and of course it's Twitter update day. Anyone fancy some broccoli?

The JonesMole gang have announced that Elvis is in the building, or some bloke by the name of Bryn "Rock-A-Hula-Baby" Terfel. Also in residence are the other principal singers; Christopher "All Shook Up" Purves [Beckmesser], Raymond "Jailhouse Rock" Very [Walther], Amanda "Release Me" Roocroft [Eva], Andrew "Suspicious Minds" Tortise [David], Anna "Hard Headed Woman" Burford [Magdalena] and Brindley "Big Boss Man" Sherrat [Veit Pogner].

While the principals compare sequined jump suits and rehearse Act I The Best Chorus in Opera™ have been beefed up from 40 to 80 and are making their way through Act II – apparently they're loud because TraviataJones is wearing a T-Shirt telling them to be quiet. However, a shortage of jump suits means that a scheduled Guinness World record attempt for the largest number of Elvis singing Wagnerians to fit inside a mini-bus driven by a man called Horse has had to be put on ice.

If Simon Schama or Sister Wendy Beckett are reading this then your help is needed. MeisterMole is trying to track down an Albrecht Dürer painting of David of David and Goliath fame as mentioned by Eva in Act I Scene I. The older ZZ Top King David has been found – it's the younger version that's escaping the Mole. Answers on a tweet sized postcard please.

Further art related news is the exciting archaeological discovery by TraviataJones of an authentic Meistersinger marking board. Despite claims of historical misrepresentation from his descendents it seems that Beckmesser was indeed a grumpy pants marker.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Meistersinger – Act Two – Week Two

David works out some personal issues

Like wonky shopping trolleys there are some phrases I wish I could avoid using. The hackneyed things may get the job done but I hope no one notices me desperately muscling them to suit my needs. One such phrase is To be honest with you. It's not particularly offensive I know, but it usually means I've been too lazy to find a better way into a sentence. So what is that I have to be lazy and honest about today? Libretti. To be honest with you, until I began this series of posts on DMvN I'd only ever paid a cursory interest in them. I would read a libretto as I listened to the opera and once I had a rough idea of what was going on I'd rarely look at it again. Sometimes I feel my laziness has been justified – how many times do I need to read the words Alas! and I love you! ? But on occasions I've known that more was being asked of me by a work, but I would put up with a basic awareness of what was going on and enjoy the music, after all it was the music that attracted me to opera in the first place – should I have to care about every word a character sings? In the case of Wagner I think the answer to this question has to be yes. I'm not claiming that he wrote the best libretti, but due to his slow burning approach to opera you're far better off reading them otherwise you'd lose a character's train of thought – and where Wagner's concerned we're talking Trans Siberian length journeys.

In case you're wondering (argh!! – wonky shopping trolley!!), by reading, I mean reading it without listening to the opera. Yes, without listening. I've been quite shocked how different my experiences of DMvN have been. The read-along-with-Wagi approach was good enough for me until I sat down and read it sans songs. With just the libretto to concentrate on I've begun to see a far more coherent world, I've gained a clearer sense of what's going on (especially in the crowded scenes towards the end of the act) and I've got a better grasp of who the characters are. Or at least I think I have.

You're nodding off now. I'd better get on to the

*****Spoiler warning thingy*****

It seems I've ended up going along the Down with the Kids Guide to Opera approach – so listen up all you…you…you…newer versions of older people, this is what happened Previously on DMvN (slick American female accent for that last part).

At the end of the first act things had taken a turn for the worst for Walther, the hot trotting knight who had a thing for Eva. Laughed off by the Meistersingers he was left with 0.00% hope of becoming son-in-law to Veit Pogner. Only Hans Sachs, shoemaker and Meistersinger, saw anything in him…

Where the first act gave us a who's who of characters, the second act is where the comedic action truly kicks off with all of the characters appearing on stage at one time or another – but the glue at the centre of it all is Hans Sachs, which is quite handy considering that the action takes place outside his pad and that of Veit Pogner. This is pretty much a slapstick / farce act culminating in a good old-fashioned Western style punch up.

Except as this is Wagner things aren't quite as simple as that. Taking a leaf from Mozart's book (don't quote me on this) he gives us characters that on second readings are more complex than they seemed to be at first. Bling Daddy VP doubts his Thou shalt only marry a Meistersinger and no other soul in the whole wide universe commandment to his daughter. Walther, passionate and in love, has begun to resemble an unhinged conspiracy theorist ready to slice and dice anyone who disagrees with him. David has the temperament of a Friday night brawler and would probably ask Are you looking at my girlfriend? in a Smirnoff / Budweiser / Strongbow kind of way. Bekmesser, well – he stays the same, as does Magdalena. It's Hans Sachs and Eva though who bring about the biggest head scratching thanks to another Siegmundish / Sieglindeish moment from Wagner. Shall I say more? Erm…

Moving on quickly… Sachs does come into play as the character around whom the opera revolves, or to put it another way – he begins to shape the opera's direction. He's a bit like a drunken puppeteer, yanking strings here and there clumsily trying to shift Eva and Walther closer together. That he does this knowing he's doing himself no favours makes him more than just a noble character. Noble can be bloody boring. Sachs is fighting against himself to do the right thing, which makes him very fascinating and very human.

By the end of this second act things aren't actually coming up roses for any of the characters, which makes you wonder if the Saxman will get the story to a happy ending. Beckmesser is looking to hire a couple of bodyguards. David is bathing his fists in a river to cool them off because he hasn't got a fridge with frozen peas. Eva is bewailing her fate. Magdalena is…still trying to fix the brakes on Eva's town wagon and Walther is cursing the superglue stuck to his sword that stopped him turning everyone into the Black Knight from Monty Python.

How will it all end? If you've got nothing better to do you can find out next week as I journey into Act III...