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Gerald Finley, " Wagner actually makes you sing to the best of your ability": Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - Glyndebourne 2011

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday 20 May 2011 | 2:13:00 am

Glyndebourne's first Meistersinger (and only their second ever Wagner production -  as discussed here) will soon be upon us. Over at,  Mike Reynolds interviews Gerald Finley about Wagner, Glyndebourne, Jurowski,  David McVicar and his first  appearance in a Wagner Opera

'It's like going to a vocal spa...I am working at the role from the inside of the music. '

In a few days time, on Saturday 21 May, the 2011 Glyndebourne season gets under way with an historic first: the biggest production it has ever mounted, Wagner's very own festival opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.   And leading the cast, in his own first Wagnerian role in costume onstage, is Canadian bass baritone Gerald Finley.   With orchestral rehearsals in full swing, and with the enormity of the undertaking becoming daily more apparent, we caught up with Finley during a break in his crowded day on the Sussex Downs. 

If he was feeling the pressure, he certainly did not show it: relaxed, articulate, he talked enthusiastically about the role of Hans Sachs, the challenges in singing the character, the Glyndebourne production and his very special affinity with the opera house that will be his spiritual home for the next couple of months.

I started by asking about Finley's approach to tackling a major Wagnerian role for the very first time.   What were the difficulties and how was he going about them?   "The thing I am learning from this incredible immersion in the score, and the role of Hans Sachs, is that Wagner actually makes you sing to the best of your ability.   I have in fact sung Wolfram [in Tannhäuser] before but only in the recording studio.   So this is my first theatrical assumption of a major Wagnerian role – in at the deep end, as you might say.   But when the part was offered to me, I accepted to do it at Glyndebourne, mainly because I knew that the long rehearsal period would allow me to get to know every aspect of the opera and the chance to do myself justice in the role.   And it is so rewarding – it is a very human story, worth looking at time and time again, full of incredible musical detail to which you have to pay scrupulous attention.  I am finding it a wonderful experience".

Without giving too much away, what sort of production has David McVicar come up with?   Any similarities with the deconstructionists like Katharina Wagner?   "No, not at all!   What I can tell you is that it is not set in its original period (the mid sixteenth century) but it is set in a time of social change and the look of the piece is Romantic, which is great for the costumes.   McVicar has approached his Meistersinger from the score, and from what it says about the people in the opera and their relationships with each other.   These after all are real relationships: they say things about the characters onstage and they say things about people and society today.   The production is not out to surprise, nor to offend, nor to provoke.   It is full of what I would call nice humanist touches.   I find it intelligent and engaging".