Gerald Finley remembers Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Gerald Finley

As the Glyndebourne Label releases a live recording of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Glyndebourne Festival 2011, we look back on the production with star, Gerald Finley.

In 2011 you made a role debut as Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - what are your favourite memories of working on the production?

Musically, it’s the working through the piece with Vladimir Jurowski and Anthony Negus, both of whom had clear ideas and a passion for the music, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra played so beautifully. David McVicar kept on saying "happy bear, sad bear" about the character - I'm not sure that was how he turned out, but it was great fun.

I enjoyed visiting the local cobbler to observe and have a go at making a real pair of shoes. My excellent colleagues were unbelievably supportive and the Masters all my friends; on opening night, all the Masters presented me with a new pair of handmade shoes as a gift.

The glorious spring of 2011 ensured that most of the choreography was fashioned on the back lawn of Glyndebourne, and as a result, the sun-touched chorus looked particularly ruddy in their festive costumes.

The role of Hans Sachs is one of the longest in the operatic repertoire - how did you prepare for such a demanding part?

I began preparing the role a good year before, as I was still performing Don Giovanni at the 2010 Glyndebourne Festival. No one was particularly interested in the Don. Everyone kept saying "How's the Sachs coming on?" I began translating it with the great bass-baritone Sir Donald MacIntyre, and then had initial encounters with Lionel Friend and worked with coaches at the Met while I sang Golaud in Pelleas et Melisande.

I finished with a wonderful week of intense coaching with the great Wagnerian coach Richard Trimborn at the Munich State Opera, who himself had learned the piece through the wonderful conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch. It was high intensity all the time. My wife remembers me sleeping under a palm tree with the score open and ear phones on while we had a holiday in Barbados! It took every moment of that year.

You were a member of the Glyndebourne Chorus early in your career - how did that experience help you to establish your signing career?

It was the most wonderful environment for a young singer to encounter excellence in all areas of the opera world - music, singing, production, direction, design, technical. It is very self-contained and so it is like an immersion in the whole process. There were so many talented young singers. It gave me a chance to understand where the best teaching might be, what further opportunities there were for training, and get to know the up-and-comers in the opera world, some of whom are my colleagues today. Glyndebourne gave me a scholarship which allowed me to train in New York for a brief period. That definitely opened my eyes, ears and throat!

If you had to single out three career-defining moments what would they be and why?

I need five! The most critical was turning down an invitation to sing for the King's Singers in my second year of university. It would have been fun, but there would have been no career in opera after that. The second was singing solos in the St. Matthew Passion with Dame Janet Baker at King's College, Cambridge. I was 22 and I realised how immense a privilege it was to sing with someone like that, and how vital non-opera singing would be for me. The third was singing Papageno with Roger Norrington at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1989. My agent, Tom Graham, came to that, and he launched my career with gusto. Another defining moment was singing the ‘Batter my heart’ aria from John Adams' Dr. Atomic at its premiere in 2005. The birth of a modern classic is very exciting to witness and be part of. Lastly, of course, is the Hans Sachs - it truly led me to a place beyond my wildest imagination. I am looking forward to revisiting the role in the years to come.

You’ve performed at Glyndebourne often and been part of some of the key moments in its recent history – yours was the first voice to be heard in the new opera house when it opened in 1994 and you starred in Die Meistersinger which is still the largest production ever to be staged at Glyndebourne - what do you particularly enjoy about working here?

Glyndebourne has been a special place because it has seen me through all the periods of my growth as a singer and human being, some tough and others triumphant. It still feels like a friendly village of extraordinarily kind and devoted people, where the process of putting on an opera is as exciting as attending a great performance. I am still amazed that I have been lucky enough to be part of it.

You’re currently preparing to perform in a new production of another of Wagner’s operas, Parsifal, what are you enjoying about playing that character?

Amfortas is a great role, with wonderfully emotional music, a character racked with pain, but determined, and then failing, to do fulfil his noble duty. The role is not long, but is central to the drama. The music is incredibly beautiful and exhilarating to sing.

What else is coming up for you?

I have a residency at the Wigmore Hall in 2014 - three solo recitals with Julius Drake in January, March and May. Two of my recital CDs are due for release from Hyperion in 2014; Winterreise and a third volume of Liszt Songs. And I’ll be singing Le nozze di Figaro at Covent Garden and Munich State Opera, The Cunning Little Vixen at the Vienna State Opera and Falstaff in Toronto.

And finally, you're stranded on a desert island but are allowed one musical score - which would you take with you and why?

I think it would have to be Le nozze di Figaro - I never grow tired of seeing the invention of da Ponte and Mozart, and there are four great roles for a bass. I'd never be bored! But if I could sneak a score of Die Meistersinger, pretending it was a life raft, I would be very happy!

Buy the Glyndebourne Label release of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from the Glyndebourne shop or download it from the Glyndebourne iTunes store at www.iTunes.com/glyndebourne.

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