My only reservation about declaring Act Two of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg as the most perfect hour of opera ever written is there are two other acts. But for me it is so perfect in every way that it’s damn near indestructible. A bad performance is still better than no performance.
That said, Kaspar Holten’s farwell production does its best to prove me wrong. Set in a gentlemen’s club, the idea is marginally interesting for 10 minutes but then becomes ruinously stupid, removing all meaning from the libretto. “It’s such a balmy evening,” sings Eva — deep in the bowels of a central London club.
But if you refuse to allow the staging to distract from the music, the Royal Opera House’s new production has its charms. Antonio Pappano’s account gives a lyricism and deftness to the score that so many conductors lose sight of.
The singing is mixed. Sir Bryn Terfel’s Hans Sachs is on autopilot (perhaps because of the ludicrous stage direction) and Eva is best forgotten. But Johannes Martin Kranzle’s Beckmesser is world class, and Gwyn Hughes Jones is a truly magnificent Walther.