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Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg starring Bryn Terfel – review at Royal Opera House London

Bryn Terfel in Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

In the week when Bryn Terfel receives his knighthood, the world’s leading Wagnerian bass-baritone stars in Royal Opera Director of Opera Kasper Holten’s farewell to the company.

Arriving at the Royal Opera in 2011 with a solid track record, Holten has subsequently experienced a distinctly mixed reception for his own shows as well as those he has commissioned: personally much liked for his warmth and articulate engagement, he was largely well received following this first night – a smattering of boos drowned out by the cheers.

This show is of distinctly mixed quality. Wagner’s opera is set in mid-16th century Nuremberg, but for some inscrutable reason Holten sets it in a gentlemen’s club in modern London, making large stretches of the action completely nonsensical.

Illustrations in the programme booklet highlight references to conservative British institutions – several with both small and large Cs. It’s hard not to suspect that the production is at least partly a comment on the lukewarm response Holten’s work has received locally; if so, Wagner’s opera and its audience deserve to be taken more seriously.

The show comes together, though, for the final scene, where the blend of ancient and modern seems more purposeful, while the humiliation of Johannes Martin Kranzle’s exceptional Beckmesser is just as troubling as it should be.

In other respects Terfel is superb as Hans Sachs, while both he and Gwyn Hughes Jones’ wiry Walther deserve medals for stamina. Rachel Willis-Sorensen makes a striking Eva, while Allan Clayton’s confident, detailed David is outstanding.

Despite strong work from both chorus and orchestra and Antonio Pappano’s considerable Wagnerian experience, the show’s musical momentum is also fitful, though once again gaining strength as we head towards the grandeur of the close.

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Bryn Terfel is superb in Kasper Holten’s otherwise disappointing final production for the Royal Opera