Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I've been in Cardiff for a few days, teaching on the Rose Bruford Opera course's residential school. Last night was very memorable indeed: the WNO's Meistersinger, directed by Richard Jones, with Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs.

I remember seeing a Graham Vick production at the ROH, years ago, with John Tomlinson as Sachs, and being very disturbed by the overt German nationalism of the ending. In Germany, it's so discomforting that one recent production actually stopped the opera at this point, and unleashed a debate - both onstage and off - as to whether these things could be said today. Richard Jones has wonderfully reclaimed the piece from the Nazi shadow, by relating Sachs' call for German art to a tradition of liberal humanist thought and artistic leadership which is totally contrary to Nazism. Bach, Handel, Goethe, Joseph Beuys, Marlene Deitrich, Brecht and many more are explicitly cited as the tradition into which Sachs tells the Romantic poet Walther he must become absorbed. We need youth, rebellion and romanticism, yes - but we also need control and rationality. In this incredibly dialectical piece, Walther unleashes the anarchy of Romanticism, which Sachs understands and is attracted to - and then fuses with the tradition. Of course, if you think of that tradition as racist and violent, then the opera is repulsive. But if the tradition is seen as open, humane and rational - then this is a piece for the current moment. It didn't feel so much German as European. Not conservative but radical. And actually, incredibly moving.

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