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WAGNER Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg

Pesendorfer; Kupfer; Putsch; Mayer; Jentjens; Lichai
Staatsphilharmonie Nurnberg/Bosch; Mouchtar-Samorai

Covielo Classics DVD COV 81201 [Region 1, NTSC]

We are by no means "perfect Wagnerites" (those below are the only DVD versions of Wagner's longest opera which Musical Pointers has covered !).

This most recent release, filmed at Nürnberg's own small opera house [L], has given us inordinate pleasure, indeed my best experience of this still problematic opera.

The young conductor Richard Wagner came there in 1895 to recruit singers for Magdeburg Theatre. He'd have been lucky to find a team of singers as good as this young cast, most of them members of the regular Nürnberg company and used to working together.

I have not yet found any English language reviews of this debut recording for all concerned, which won appreciation for the musicians but boos for the production team which are not cut from the curtain calls sequence!...

The aim at a fresh, lighter take on Der Meistersinger than many, and especially the desire to put paid to its Nazi links at Nürnberg, where as Hitler's favourite opera it was given annually there, is brought out in the excellent interviews with admirableconductor Marcus Bosch and director David Mouchtar-Samorai (who "happened to be born a Jew & in Israel...") with filming during the preparations and rehearsals; by a likely oversight, this Bonus lacks subtitles.

The aim of Mouchtar-Samorai's contemporary setting was to be "abstract and cheerful" and on screen it works perfectly, with a view of ancient Nürnberg [R] appearing briefly, at the transition to the last scene on the festival meadow.

The ensemble playing by the company and its orchestra is notable. Beckmesser apart, thereis no over-acting; the attentive listening by chorus members was striking, and the long narrations, slightly pompous but without longuers, gave a vivid and plausible picture of small town life. Michael Putsch has an easy, natural manner and vocalisation which is completely winning and by its final complete rendering there is no feeling of having heard the Prize Song too much in its preparation. And the couple's celebration of success [R] is delightfully spontaneous. Nor does Putsch as Walter seem to be trying to outdo famous contenders in this much recorded masterwork when wooing the charming, unsophisticated Michaela Maria Mayer.

So do add it to the Meistersingers on your shelf or, if you don't have one, treat yourself to some happy hours.

Peter Grahame Woolf



Die Meistersinger from Australia

Hans Sachs DONALD McINTYRE Sixtus Beckmesser JOHN PRINGLE Walther Von Stolzing PAUL FREY Eva HELENA DOESE


Set Designer JOHN GUNTER
Lighting Director NIGEL LEVINGS

Arthaus DVD 100 122

This MEISTERSINGER is conceived on a pleasingly modest scale, reminding us that in the Middle Ages Nurenburg would have been quite a small town by modern standards. I enjoyed greatly the first act and found the settings satisfying, equally so the third with the sequence of duets and the final ceremonial well choreographed, but not too grand.

Reservations about the middle act, the street scene not very convincing, likewise the riot. A big problem, not the fault of the performers, is Beckmesser's serenade, an unfunny scene to our taste and, with Sachs' incessant hammering, tedious.

Mostly it looks and sounds good, though one has to exercise a little tactful consideration when the homely Eva is being lauded for her exceptional beauty. (This morning I read that Deborah Voigt has been dropped by Covent Garden, her girth rendering her unsuitable to be Ariadne.) Responding to Sachs' flattery, HELENA DOESE charmingly tells us that "My dressmaker has managed to conceal the problems I have".

The problematic glorification of German Art is handled lightly, and the whole goes well in 1990 under Charles Mackerras (picture format 4:3). Michael Hampe's production is broadly traditional, and good for that. Sound satisfactory from the Sidney Opera House, and it is a pleasure to watch a relaxed Mackerras conducting the preludes. Not the greatest Meistersinger you'll ever see, but warming and recommendable.

The Mastersinger of Nuremberg at Bayreuth

Orchester & Chor der Bayreuther Festspiele/HORST STEIN
Set Design and Production WOLFGANG WAGNER

Deutsche Grammophon DVD 00440 073 4160 [Bayreuth 1984]

Also filmed on 4:3 is the 1984 Bayreuth production with a starry cast, all in fine voice, looking good and filmed unfussily; better all round than the Australian production reviewed above.

The cover picture shows the village fete atmosphere of the finale, with people eating, drinking beer, dancing and making merry - real, natural people.

The composer's grandson Wolfgang (b 1919) had been steeped in Wagner's music all his life and in this production he strove to make Beckmesser less of a caricatured comic figure than as usually depicted; Hermann Prey becomes believable and sympathetic by the end. The heart of the opera for us was the first part of Act 3, with the marvellous scherzando exchange about the stolen poem between Prey and a younger Sachs than we often see (Bernd Weikl), leading to the glorious Quintet, filmed in perfect stillness. At the end the silver-haired Wolfgang Wagner makes a fleeting personal appearance in the Alfred Hitchcock manner.

This is an exceptional performance with no obvioue weaknesses we noticed, and a highly recommendable purchase.

Peter Grahame Woolf

© Peter Grahame Woolf