Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Erich Leinsdorf
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
2 December 1939
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsFriedrich Schorr
Veit PognerEmanuel List
Kunz VogelgesangMax Altglass
Konrad NachtigallLouis D’Angelo
Sixtus BeckmesserWalter Olitzki
Fritz KothnerHerbert Janssen
Balthasar ZornNicholas Massue
Ulrich EißlingerGiordano Paltrinieri
Augustin MoserLodovico Oliviero
Hermann OrtelGeorge Cehanovsky
Hans SchwartzJohn Gurney
Hans FoltzJames Wolfe
Walther von StolzingCharles Kullmann
DavidKarl Laufkoetter
EvaIrene Jessner
MagdaleneKarin Branzell
Ein NachtwächterGeorge Cehanovsky
Musical America

The first ‘Die Meistersinger’ of the season brought a capacity matinee house on the afternoon of Dec. 2, and furnished new material for consideration in the person of Walter Olitzki, who made his debut as Beckmesser, and Erich Leinsdorf, who conducted the Wagner “comedy” for the first time in the house. Another debut, that of Lodovico Oliviero as Moser, offered little opportunity for appraisal of the singer’s gifts.

Mr. Leinsdorf, who has been called so suddenly to assume great and grave responsibilities, could not be expected to fulfill them immediately with the weight of mature experience which his predecessor displayed, but his youth, enthusiasm and his talent for holding large forces together creditably was everywhere evident in this performance. His tempos were almost invariably brisk, a fine thing for making an opera move, but occasionally a strain upon the singers, who probably would have appreciated a little more leeway. A tendency to let the brasses overblow and to bring the entire orchestra to tumultuous proportions, thus overwhelming the voices, will probably be restrained as his work goes on-at least one hopes so. On the whole, however, the performance merited the vote of confidence given the young conductor in each intermission.

The youthful nephew of the Rosa Olitzka of former Metropolitan fame displayed himself as a character actor of finesse, with many excellent bits of small business. Beckmesser can be so easily caricatured beyond true drawing, and Mr. Olitzki never erred in this respect. The complaining and futile suitor of Eva was, however, a little oldish to be credible.

Another new character was that of Kothner, which Mr. Janssen made a magnificent portrait, unctuous, condescending, pompous. All others were well known to the house. Mr. Schorr’s Sachs was once again a dominating figure, sweet natured and imbued with the undertones of philosophy which make his personation so endearing. He sang unusually well, seldom forcing. Miss Jessner’s Eva was in the picture, although her singing was not always impeccable. Mr. Kullmann, although vocally rather on the light side for Walther, used this very fact to make Walther once more a lyric being instead of an explosive one, a gratifying phenomenon. Miss Branzell, Mr. List and Mr. Laufkoetter played their accustomed parts well, as before. Chorus and ballet contributed zestfully to the brilliance of the mass scenes.

Quaintance Eaton


As war began to rage in Europe, the Met’s German wing staged an imperishably vital performance of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In the cast was – very much primus inter pares – the magnificent figure of Friedrich Schorr. The recording equipment captured the impersonation in excellent sound for the time, one for which no real allowances need to be made. Fortunately – because I like them – Milton Cross’s scene-setting introductions and commentaries have been retained. Collectors will know that this performance has been released before, on LP by Edward Smith on a limited issue basis, and subsequently by Discocorp to a more general audience.

As for the production itself those familiar with conductor Arthur Bodanzky’s work, previously auditioned in many Guild transfers of Met performances, will be aware that he imposed sometimes drastic cuts. Leinsdorf frequently had to take these over, as here. But for this Immortal Performances restoration we need also to note that there have been some minor interpolations and editorial revisions. Schorr’s Act III passage Euch macht ihr’s leicht was truncated on the night, for whatever reason; here an interpolation from a commercial Victor by Schorr from 1931 has ‘restored’ it. There were also some instances of brusque side joins, where the engineers left no overlaps, so these have been modified. Certain unspecified ‘problems in vocal or orchestral phrases’ have also been corrected. There are two sides to this argument, but IP’s éminence grise Richard Caniell has always been straightforward about his belief in the ‘higher fidelity’ of a performance, and it’s a view one can respect even if one doesn’t happen to side with it. For what it’s worth I tend to the latter position.

And so to the performance. The casting is invariably uneven. Some outstanding performances stand alongside sub-par ones. But the truth is that the performance emerges, notwithstanding some local difficulties, as an ensemble of deep humanity and vitality. At its apex stands Schorr, whose nobility, dignity, humour and multi-faceted impersonation is as complete as anyone’s on record. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine his Act I Scene II passage, Vielleicht schon ginget being better done – but I doubt it. His is a performance of artistry, theatrical power, and subtlety – of phrasing, of timbral weight, of timing. There are, to my ears, simply no serious intimations that he was nearing the end of his career. And when he mines the deep expressive potential of the reflective Act II Was duftet doch der Flieder we have the sensation of, if it’s not too fanciful, hearing something like the wisdom of the ages. It’s a performance that inevitably overshadows the ensemble by virtue of its sense of accumulated sensibility, but it is not alone in parading excellence.

Prominent amongst the other cast members who does just that, for example, is Charles Kullman, who is pure pleasure throughout. His Walther starts as he means to go on; lithe, masculine, ardent, vocally exceptional throughout his compass, and theatrically utterly convincing. His Am stillen Herd has youthful fluency as well as panache. Irene Jessner is Eva, somewhat uneven and technically compromised in the faster passages but singing with equally youthful tone as Kullman, though his is by far the finer voice. Walter Olitzki sings Beckmesser in a way that must surely now strike us as excessively hectoring, stereotypical and lacking in suggestive subtlety. And Emanuel List’s old, tired-sounding Pogner is a study in vocal immobility. Far better to turn instead to the marvellous Herbert Janssen whose Kothner is sung in exemplary fashion. So too is Karin Branzell’s Magdalene, a gleeful and truly involving spirit. Karl Laufkoetter’s David brings a bright confidence to his role; I’m not sure I agree with the magisterial Paul Jackson who, in his book on Met performances, called his singing here a ‘bleat’. Surveying all is the young Erich Leinsdorf, whose bright clarity is a force for good in this work. He marshals the forces with enviable control, ensures that sectional balances are apt, and is never businesslike.

So this realisation is a tremendously impressive, though inevitably partial, triumph. The booklet has synopses, analytical and biographical material and photographs; altogether a classy product, with notes really worth reading and digesting. This often inspiring 1939 performance comes, as I said, in truly first class sound as well.

Jonathan Woolf

User Rating
Media Type/Label
EJS, Discocorp
Walhall, Immortal Performances, OOA
Technical Specifications
296 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 441 MByte (flac)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Wilhelm von Wymetal (1923)
Heavily cut version