Notes and Editorial Reviews
GRAMOPHONE's DVD of the Month - June 2005!
"Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is one of those works that, when done well, conveys an incredible richness and complexity and evokes a whole host of conflicting emotions. This superb performance...does just that. Cast from strength - James Morris (Hans Sachs), Ben Heppner (Walther), Karita Mattila (Eva), René Pape (Pogner) and Sir Thomas Allen (Beckmesser) - the performance is in the excellent hands of veteran Met conductor James Levine...all the intimacy of this remarkable work comes vividly to life. Clearly, this is the finest DVD version of the opera currently available." - GRAMOPHONE
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: Dolby Digital 5.1 &
R E V I E W S:
This Meistersinger, Otto Schenk’s Metropolitan Opera production that premiered in 1993, is an old friend. I’ve seen it four times over the past decade and hope that the Met’s powers-that-be choose to keep it around for a lot longer. It’s a visual feast—warmly lit like an old master painting, the sets and costumes sumptuously detailed. The Met’s large stage is frequently quite well-populated: the riot at the end of the second act is fabulously choreographed and it really does seem as though an entire town has turned out for the singing contest in the meadow at the opera’s conclusion.
My favorite of those four performances was in 1995, a cast that included Heppner and Mattila, but with Bernd Weikl as Sachs and the late Hermann Prey as Beckmesser. But this December 2001 iteration runs a close second. James Morris, for decades the Met’s leading Wotan and Dutchman, only undertook the role of Hans Sachs when he was well past 50, and that series of Meistersingers was his first at the Metropolitan. Though some could prefer a plusher voice for Sachs, there can be no faulting Morris on musical or dramatic grounds, as his performance embodies all the traits of that wonderful character—the wisdom, humor, humility, and moral authority that define Wagner’s greatest “hero.” Morris’s “Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!” is as deeply considered an appraisal of human nature as any of Wotan’s more introspective soliloquies. In act III, he deals, in turn, with David, Walther, Beckmesser, and Eva as they appear in his workshop like a knowing psychotherapist, listening and offering cogent advice and support to all, but never with an overbearing manner.
Ben Heppner’s Walther is lyrically and eloquently sung, though his voice has plenty of power. (At the 2001 performance I heard, I recall Heppner’s voice cracking once as he worked with Sachs on the Prize Song and there’s a fairly apparent overdub at this point on the DVD.) The Canadian impressively develops Walther as a person over the course of the work—always appealing, but evolving from an arrogant, if charmingly love-struck, outsider to a man enamored of both a woman and an artistic tradition.
Thomas Allen is a terrific Beckmesser, a scowling sourpuss who stops just short of buffoonery (though there is some heavy-duty rolling of eyes as he sneaks into Sachs’s place.) His two extended scenes with Morris, in acts II and III, are very funny. René Pape is unquestionably the finest Wagnerian bass of his generation, bringing gravitas at a remarkably young age to the roles of King Marke and Gurnamanz, as he does to Pogner here. Mattila sings beautifully, though she’s a success without even opening her mouth, looking, in this production, as if she has stepped out of a Vermeer; a mature woman opera singer convincingly representing girlish innocence and vulnerability.
In the other principal roles, Matthew Polenzani is a loveable and eagerly informative David and Jill Grove a firm but big-hearted Magdalene. The various Mastersingers are a memorably distinctive crew, led ceremoniously by John Del Carlo as Kothner. James Levine, leading the extraordinary Met Orchestra, is as much a star as any of these fine singers. His pacing is phenomenally effective: that last act, which all of Tosca will fit into, just flies by. Plenty of the credit for that, of course, goes to Wagner, but thoughtful and energetic leadership from the podium always goes a long way to propelling along this composer’s vast dramatic structures.
The video, directed by Brian Large, looks great, with expert editing. Everybody in the cast can actually act, and there are loads of reaction shots from characters who aren’t singing at the time. One is never distracted by all the stage business in the background, as when the apprentices are setting up for Walther’s act I audition while David explains the complexities of song-writing to the would-be Meistersinger. Subtitles are offered in English, German, French, and Spanish (no Italian), as well as Chinese.
Sound-wise, there are two surround options, DTS and Dolby Digital. By a slight margin, I preferred the latter, which possessed a tad more “air” and smoothness to musical textures. The multichannel adds mostly a generalized spaciousness and dimensionality—there’s nothing to suggest that the venue is the capacious Met and not a much smaller theater. The audience makes its presence known, behind the listening position, only with its enthusiastic applause at the beginning and end of acts, and with their laughter, as when poor Beckmesser butchers Walther’s texts in the final scene. Those listening in stereo won’t be disappointed either, as vocal/instrumental balances are excellent and you get slightly-better-than-CD quality resolution—16-bit, 48 kHz playback.
If you are building a Wagner video collection, this one’s a must.
Andrew Quint, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner
James Morris (Bass),
René Pape (Bass),
Thomas Allen (Baritone),
Matthew Polenzani (Tenor),
Karita Mattila (Soprano),
Ben Heppner (Tenor),
Jill Grove (Alto),
John Relyea (Bass)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1862-1867; Germany
Date of Recording: 12/2001
Venue: Metropolitan Opera House, New York
Length: 292 Minutes 0 Secs.
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