Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Wolfgang Sawallisch
Chor und Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper München
31 July 1988
Nationaltheater München
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsBernd Weikl
Veit PognerKurt Moll
Kunz VogelgesangFriedrich Lenz
Konrad NachtigallFlorian Cerny
Sixtus BeckmesserHermann Prey
Fritz KothnerKarl Helm
Balthasar ZornUlrich Reß
Ulrich EißlingerHermann Sapell
Augustin MoserDavid Thaw
Hermann OrtelWolfgang Rauch
Hans SchwartzKieth Engen
Hans FoltzKarl Christian Kohn
Walther von StolzingRené Kollo
DavidPeter Schreier
EvaHelen Donath
MagdaleneCornelia Wulkopf
Ein NachtwächterHermann Sapell
The New York Times

A Tale of ‘Meistersinger’ in 2 Cities

The City of Nuremberg lies between Munich, Bavaria’s capital, and the smaller town of Bayreuth, where the annual Wagner festival takes place. One might assume that Bayreuth would have first rights to anything Wagnerian. But when it comes to ”Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” Munich can stake a prior claim (Nuremberg itself is, operatically speaking, comparatively small beer).

Such competition as may exist between Munich and Bayreuth over this, Wagner’s only mature comic opera and far and away his sunniest and most accessible, was put to the test recently by two productions of the score within three days of each other. Sunday night, as the concluding event of the 1988 Munich Opera Festival, the Bavarian State Opera presented its 1979 production by August Everding. And on Wednesday, Bayreuth staged its first ”Meistersinger” of the summer, a Wolfgang Wagner production from 1981.

Both performances had much to offer, including the same Hans Sachs, Bernd Weikl. But although Munich may have stronger historical claim, it was Bayreuth that came up with the more satisfying evening in the theater.

Munich’s kinship with ”Die Meistersinger” is close. The opera was first performed there in 1868, courtesy of Ludwig II of Bavaria (Bayreuth didn’t get around to it until 1888). And it has been given there on festive occasions ever since, most notably the postwar reopening of the National Theater in 1963. Curiously, it was ”Die Meistersinger” that had been scheduled for the night of Oct. 2, 1943, when the theater was destroyed by bombs. Sunday’s performance marked not only the end of this year’s Munich Festival, but also the closing of the National Theater until April, during which time it will be refurbished and its backstage machinery brought up to date.

Mr. Weikl sang Sachs in both performances because he is the best we have right now in the part. One might ideally prefer a slightly less woolly sound and a slightly less baritonal timbre. But Mr. Weikl is still a most persuasive exponent of this part, and he grows in it as the action progresses, moving from gruff heartiness to poetic reverie to real nobility by the end.

Otherwise, the strongest element in Munich’s cast was Helen Donath’s Eva. Miss Donath recorded the part with Herbert von Karajan in 1971, but has apparently only recently added it to her stage repertory. She no longer looks like a yearning young thing, but she sings the music well-nigh ideally, with a fresh, focused soprano.

The rest of the Munich cast looked strong in theory but didn’t cohere ideally in practice. Hermann Prey’s Beckmesser is elegantly sung but blankly underacted. Kurt Moll, sounding less sonorously rich than he once did, was still a sure Pogner. But Peter Schreier is really too old now for David, and Rene Kollo was almost a parody of an effortful Wagnerian tenor as Walther.

Mr. Everding’s production looks oddly plain, with the final scene constructed largely of what seems like tan paper. Wolfgang Sawallisch conducted, drawing solid work from the orchestra and chorus and maintaining steady, decently considered if rather inflexible tempos. But everything sounded rough and underrehearsed.

Especially in comparison with Michael Schonwandt’s conducting at Bayreuth. The Danish Mr. Schonwandt took some tempos too fast -Mr. Weikl really had to struggle to keep up in his final monologue. But next to Munich’s, this was a genuine festival production. On stage and in the pit, everything looked and sounded prepared with loving care. Mr. Schonwandt had real ideas about this music – he seemed to feel it as Mendelssohnian, not to say Mozartean – and he had the technique and the time to realize those ideas with his ensemble.

Wolfgang Wagner, the composer’s grandson, is by no means an innovative director or set designer. But his work in this ”Meistersinger” – this is its last year – proved solidly effective right down the line, from its basically handsome appearance to the sensible arrangement of the action to the acting of both major and minor characters.

The cast, too, made for a far more telling ensemble than Munich’s. The American soprano Lucy Peacock didn’t sing quite so well as Miss Donath (another German-based American) – her soprano turned rough under pressure – but she did well enough by the music and contributed a lovely dramatic statement of the part. Ulrich Ress, moving up from the minor Meistersinger role of Balthasar Zorn in Munich, made a lively, sweet-voiced David, nicely complemented by Marga Schiml as Magdalene.

Manfred Schenk was a fine Pogner, and Matthias Holle continued the Bayreuth tradition of glamorously casting the small but lovely role of the Night Watchman. Alan Opie sang and acted a lively, traditional Beckmesser, and Peter Hofmann, though nearly as strained as Mr. Kollo, was ultimately a marginally more effective, or at least less grating, Walther.

JOHN ROCKWELL | August 6, 1988

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
160 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 290 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
A production by August Everding (1979)