Notes and Editorial Reviews
Recordings of Die Meistersinger do not grow on trees; more than any other of Wagner’s operas it almost defines “festival opera”. Its four-hour-plus length is just the start: Sachs is an incredibly long role, and the character is complicated (more so, say, that Gurnemanz in Parsifal–another endurance contest–who is religiously tunnel-visioned); Walther’s biggest moment comes at the opera’s very end and simply cannot be anything but great; Eva is sweet without being cloying and while the role is lyrical, it’s not easy to pin down dramatically; Beckmesser must be foolish but not grotesque; the orchestra is huge, and if the chorus, orchestra, and soloists get through the first act finale with flying colors, they still have the second act’s, which is a true challenge for any conductor to keep both together and clear.
This new set, recorded live at 1999’s Bayreuth Festival succeeds brilliantly on many fronts, but falls short elsewhere. Daniel Barenboim’s leadership is the greatest plus, and of course the Bayreuth orchestra and chorus are brilliant, with virtuoso playing and singing of the clearest, most ideally articulated order; but there’s much more than sheer gloriousness of sound to admire. The individual segments of Act 1 melt into one another with absolute naturalness, and I doubt that the infamous second act finale, with its dozen threads going at once, has ever sounded less like a free-for-all. Without being either cool or cautious, Barenboim presents us with a fabulous picture of a town in comic chaos. When it all ends, we, the audience, are properly delighted, exhausted, and energized, all at once. The exquisite calm of the third act prelude is merely a continuation of the story: Barenboim presents the plot in a faultless arc, and when peace is restored at the end of the opera, it makes perfect sense.
The singing is a mixed bag. Best is Peter Seiffert’s glorious Walther. He starts off gently, a bit carefully, but by the time he mimics Beckmesser’s “Fanget an!” at the start of his big scene that begins the Act 1 finale, the tone is brave, bold, and beautiful and it remains such for the rest of the opera. He phrases naturally, his involvement and ardor are genuine and unforced, and you’ll be applauding by the end of his Prize Song. Robert Holl’s Sachs is equally well-thought-through, with innate wisdom and an over-riding vision that (happily) precludes sentimentality or sanctimoniousness–with these characteristics the opera fails. Holl’s Sachs is endlessly decent and judicious and it’s also filled with humor–he jabs Beckmesser as much as we would. What isn’t ideal is the quality of his voice: this Sachs sounds old and the tone doesn’t vary nearly enough. It’s a technical issue, but there it is.
Andreas Schmidt as Beckmesser sounds uncannily like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, but without the stressed consonants and underlining. This is a great recommendation, by the way, and he even manages his high A-natural in full voice in the second act. He’s almost visual.
Soprano Emily Magee doesn't fully manage to capture all of tEva’s charm, and the voice is not pretty enough to keep us alert. Birgitta Svenden’s Magdalene sounds too much like Erda. What’s a nice, energetic, mellifluous David like Endrik Wottrich doing with her? If Matthias Hölle’s Pogner is a bit staid, well, it’s supposed to be, and the rest of the cast is up to festival standards. What can you do? Barenboim, the concept, and the Walther are perfect. If that’s enough for you, fine; it isn’t for me.
– ClassicsToday (Robert Levine)