Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Christoph von Dohnányi
Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatoper
21 Oktober 1975
Staatsoper Wien
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsKarl Ridderbusch
Veit PognerKurt Moll
Kunz VogelgesangKarl Terkal
Konrad NachtigallHans Helm
Sixtus BeckmesserPeter van der Bilt
Fritz KothnerRaimond Wolansky
Balthasar ZornHorst Nitsche
Ulrich EißlingerAnton Wendler
Augustin MoserEwald Aichberger
Hermann OrtelHarald Pröglhöf
Hans SchwartzAlfred Šramek
Hans FoltzAlois Pernerstorfer
Walther von StolzingJames King
DavidHeinz Zednik
EvaGundula Janowitz
MagdaleneGertrude Jahn
Ein NachtwächterPeter Wimberger

A boisterous ‘Meistersinger’

After almost two years of intrigue and postponement the STATE OPERA offered its Wagnerian clientele the long promised new production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Many members of the clientele seemed happy with it, though it was not really Wagner’s poetic comedy that we saw and heard. The atmosphere was less 16th-century Nuremberg, dreamy and romantic, more a sort of musical Oktoberfest. No subtlety, poetry, or romanticism but lots of noise and shouting, culminating in the exact planning and execution of a wild Prilgelszene, as though this scene were the heart of the score. Apparently the idea was the-noisier-the-merrier. Otto Schenk, the producer, who knows his business, is not exactly a master of understatement. He sensibly leads and groups his singers, and often creates human beings; he adds some good touches, especially with the apprentices, and omits some bad ones. Thank heavens Sachs no longer sticks his finger into Beckmesser’s face as he says `Und die Tinte noch nass?’. But both Schenk and Christoph von Dohnanyi, the conductor, ignored much of the romantic atmosphere and poetic beauty that are, after all, in the score. They did not present a lyric comedy, but a boisterous spectacle. It began with an overture that was neither transparent nor poetic, just brassy. Throughout the evening, the orchestra often drowned the singers, though Dohnanyi conducted the third-act prelude beautifully and built up the climax of the quintet with feeling. And while he and Schenk at least contributed some good things, Jurgen Rose, the set and costume designer, contributed nothing new, and much that was not needed. His sets were naturalistic down to the smallest detail. They were all wood and no poetry. It was not bad to show the mastersingers sitting at a table, in Last-Supper style, during the Guild meeting, and the apprentices upstairs in the gallery, looking down in small groups and expressing the audience’s feelings about the silly masters. But the second act, full of musical poetry, was a cobble-stone street, narrow and crowded. The ‘full moon’, which Wagner prescribed in his score, was eliminated, perhaps as a kitschy necessity, but there was plenty of kitsch in Rose’s roofs and gables. The Schusterstube was again full of wood and empty of mood, and the meadow had become a Munich-style Bierzelt, a tent without beer. We seemed to be back at the premiere in Munich on 21 June 1868, only at that time Hans von Billow was conducting. No doubt, though, that the Vienna Philharmonic is better than Biilow’s orchestra was. The rejuvenated orchestra plays very well, and they executed the lyrical moments, such as the end of the second act, with celestial beauty. All they needed was a conductor who loves the romanticism of Meistersinger. The chorus scenes — the apprentices, the crowds — were absolutely firstrate. Norbert Balatsch, chorus-master, has created an exact, sensitive instrument. I heard the fourth performance (4 November), and there were some changes in the cast. James King, the Stolzing on the first night, sang only once after attending several weeks of rehearsal, and departed for Paris, according to his contract. This was well known in Vienna and is characteristic of the State Opera’s mismanagement and carefree attitude. The third performance was conducted not by Dohnanyi, but by Berislav Klobucar. The Staatsoper claims that it does not matter — all performances are sold out, which is true but does not conceal the fact that something is very, very wrong there. We were lucky though: we got Peter Schreier as David, and I have never heard a better one. He was in fact the best member of the cast; good for Schreier but bad for the Meistersinger. He sings with great understanding and subtle nuance; his ‘rules’ song in the first act taught a few lessons to the people around. (Heinz Zednik is reported to have been a good David on the first night.) Peter van der Bilt was excellent as Beckmesser — not the ridiculous caricature we often (continued on page 57) Vienna (continued from page 40) see, but a pedantic, elegant and always (well, almost always) sympathetic fellow who just does not understand this word. In the first act he looked like a bishop who had got lost in the wrong church: very amusing. So was Kothner (Raimund Wolansky), whom Schenk had treated with obvious affection. The mastersingers were all interesting, with not one stereotype among them, though Manfred Schenk (Pogner) was not very warm or human. (Kurt Moll had been the first-night Pogner.)

Something is amiss when one talks about the secondary parts first. Nothing was really wrong with Gundula Janowitz, except that her dramatic voice is not always suited to Eva’s light conversations with Sachs and Stolzing. But Miss Janowitz reached impressive heights before and during the quintet, which she sang exquisitely, never straining, with beautiful, sustained legato. Jess Thomas, who had valiantly tried in the first act and during the prize-song to give the illusion of a Heldentenor, could not quite make it in the quintet, and had many sympathetic listeners worried about him; obviously the difficult part strains his resources. (The same had been said of James King. We seem to be running out of great Stolzings in the traditions of Slezak and Oestvig.) Gertrude Jahn was adequate as Magdalene, and Frederick Guthrie was an interesting Nightwatchman.

Karl Ridderbusch sang Sachs, but was he Hans Sachs, ‘cobbler and poet’? Ridderbusch’s fans claim he is the best Sachs today, which may be true. He knows the part, he sings the monologues with apparent musicality, he wisely saves his reserves for the feared last scene. He is sympathetic, sometimes he appears even ‘wise’. But Ridderbusch as Sachs satisfies only those who have never heard or forgotten a truly great Sachs. (No need to mention names.) He lacks warmth and wisdom, he tries to project but does not really give us kindness and humour, and he has no sense of irony. He blusters and shouts a lot, his psychological crisis over Eva is unconvincing, he fails to move us with the beautiful reference to King Mark. In short, he is a very good Sachs, and every opera house would be glad to have him, but he lacks the sense of deep humanity, the feeling of resignation that distinguishes a good Sachs from a great one. It has been rumoured that during his private May festival at the State Opera in 1977, K arajan wants to perform the Meistersinger. His own, of course, with his own sets, imported from Salzburg. The present production is said to have been very expensive, but no one seems to care how much anything costs — it is all taxpayers’ money. The way they handle it at the State Opera makes a good case against public subsidy, though we all know that opera must be subsidized to survive. Anyway, it is always sold out, and everybody is happy.


User Rating
Media Type/Label
Ponto, OD, HO
Technical Specifications
642 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.11 GByte (flac)
Broadcast (Ö1)
A production by Otto Schenk (premiere)