LONDON (Reuters) - There were circus performers on stage for the Glyndebourne premiere of Wagner's epically long "Die Meistersingers von Nuremberg" last Saturday, but the real high-wire act was baritone Gerald Finley singing the main part.
The music press and the blogosphere had been abuzz for weeks about whether Finley's not-epically-huge voice would be up to tackling the longest role in the baritone repertoire at the posh English summer opera venue south of London.
On the night, the cheers and standing ovation for the 51-year-old Canadian said it all, as did the glowing reviews.
"Finley, silencing concerns that the role would defeat him, is extraordinary both vocally and dramatically," Tim Ashley wrote in The Guardian. And he was not alone.
"I think my determination was to make sure I got through the piece with all guns blazing," Finley, taking a much deserved four-day rest between performances, told Reuters this week.
"It was a personal determination to make me know to the core of my soul that this is a role that I should be doing and I was more determined than ever to do that on opening night.
"But really, I could have sung on and on, all night, which is a really great feeling. Yeah."
Here's what else the man who mixes roles from radio presenter Howard Stern in "Anna Nicole" to Wagner's poet-shoemaker Hans Sachs to Debussy's Prince Golaud in the mystical "Pelleas et Melisande," plus a lot of Mozart, had to say about preparing to sing Sachs, recovering from singing Sachs, and what Wagner role he's going to do next.
Q: This has been a big year for you, including singing Stern in the hugely popular "Anna Nicole" at the Royal Opera House, Golaud at the Met and now Sachs at Glyndebourne. Ever feel you need to pinch yourself to be sure you're not dreaming? A: "When I looked at the year and thought four new roles... hmmm... ending with Hans Sachs, now that's perhaps a little crazy. But each has been a delightful project and Sachs is a wonderful way to finish the season. It is a grueling thing but I think it's one of those things where hopefully one gets into a groove and they're paced nicely. With four days between shows there's enough recovery time and hopefully rejuvenation time, too."
Q: Why Glyndebourne, which has only done one other Wagner opera since it was founded in the 1930s, and why now in your career?
A: "Fundamentally my whole idea about doing Hans Sachs as a career kind of step was that certainly it would have to be in a very nurturing environment. Glyndebourne has been my 'comfy sofa' for the last 25 years, having started in the chorus, and a lot of the most wonderful elements of my career have happened here, including the opening of the new theater in 1994 when I sang Figaro.
"This repertoire has been on my radar, not in terms of thinking I have a very large voice and that I'm going to be walking into the Wagnerian culture right away and certainly starting with Hans Sachs it's a little bit of an odd introduction to the whole Wagnerian repertoire. It's simply a timing issue...and fundamentally this is the right place to do this role, in the environment of a small theater with wonderful musicians. It gives me a chance to really bed it in. It's a fairly public debut but by the same token...I feel the most comfortable as a person in this environment."
Q: So where next in the vast Wagner universe?
A: "Wolfram in 'Tannhauser' and Amfortas in 'Parsifal'.
Q: Does this mean another wonderful Mozartean has been lost to the Wagner world forever?
A: "I would say I'm progressing along that road but I wouldn't say I've turned into a Wagnerian by any means. I would hope that growth and the ongoing relation I have with the music will allow me to perform it in places and circumstances where hopefully they will be happy to have me."
Q: Must have been one heck of a cast party after that seven-hour-long premiere on Saturday.
A: "Yes, oh yes. It was great."
(Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" in rotation at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival through June 26. www.glyndebourne.com)
Editing by Paul Casciato