Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Christoph von Dohnányi
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
16 April 1990
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsBernd Weikl
Veit PognerGwynne Howell
Kunz VogelgesangGlenn Winslade
Konrad NachtigallBruno Caproni
Sixtus BeckmesserHermann Prey
Fritz KothnerDonald Maxwell
Balthasar ZornFrancis Egerton
Ulrich EißlingerPaul Crook
Augustin MoserJohn Dobson
Hermann OrtelGeoffrey Moses
Hans SchwartzJonathan Best
Hans FoltzMark Beesley
Walther von StolzingBen Heppner
DavidRobert Gambill
EvaFelicity Lott
MagdaleneGillian Knight
Ein NachtwächterPeter Rose

You can almost always glean from the overture what a reading of Die Meistersinger is going to be like. This one was no exception. Christoph von Dohnanyi’s pulse was brisk, his line clear, and above all his sonority translucent: every detail of the contrapuntal argument was unerringly pointed yet without loss of forward movement. To that was added a richness of string sound that put to flight the idea that the Royal Opera House’s acoustics are dry. The whole left one with a sense of keen anticipation. Hopes were abundantly fulfilled as far as the interpretation was concerned: it continued as it had begun, in a natural, idiomatic way without calling undue attention to itself. One might call this the Kapellmeister tradition at its very best, and Sawallisch, Dohnanyi’s Bavarian colleague, is about its only other exponent today (apart, perhaps, from our own Colin Davis). Maybe something of the old-fashioned, expansive outpouring of sound that one recalls from Furtwangler and Goodall is missing in this approach, but it offers many compensations of unobtrusive rightness.

Dohnanyi had also tutored his singers into a coherent whole. There were reservations about most members of the cast, apart from Anne Howells’s lively, slightly cynical, beautifully sung Magdalene, Donald Maxwell’s exemplary Kothner, and Gwynne Howell’s deeply experienced Pogner (how one would like to have heard his Sachs in these surroundings), but the reservations hardly mattered before the unanimity of the whole, everyone playing his due part in creating a true ensemble. Bernd Weikl’s Sachs, much appreciated at Bayreuth and elsewhere, remains more shoemaker than poet. He looked astonishingly youthful, certainly more prepossessing than the evening’s Walther. Weikl sings with consistently ingratiating tone, and quite tireless tone and breath, and that is a great deal to be thankful for. He seemed as fresh extolling German art as he had been expounding his ideas in the SingschuL But one misses the charisma and inner warmth of the most telling interpreters, indeed of Hans Sotin in the 1982 revival. These are, perhaps, things that cannot be learnt but are innate. Weikl had the advantage of having worked with the same Beckmesser at Bayreuth, and the two played cannily to each other all evening, most amusingly in their Act 3 encounter, in which the men’s love-hate relationship was cleverly enacted. For my taste, Hermann Prey’s Town Clerk was too heavily sung and performed. It is true he avoids the traditional ‘business’, which can become tiresome, but in its place he employs a kind of plonking humour that is just as irritating. Against this need to be set Prey’s exemplary diction and his real singing of the lute song. Like Sachs he also seemed a more credible candidate for Eva’s hand than Reiner Goldberg’s somewhat dumpy Walther. In his case pleasure at such clean diction and true legato was somewhat vitiated by his dryish tone, though he had obviously saved something for the Prize song, where bloom seemed to return to his tone. At the very least he is ‘safe’ in the role—and of how few Walthers in recent times can that be said! Robert Gambill made a rather awkward, lanky David, none too happy with the role’s tessitura and too obviously anxious to please.

That leaves Felicity Lott’s long-awaited Eva. Naturally nervous to start with, she left judgement in suspense until the third act, where her faultless technique and bright, even tone opened up gloriously for ‘Sachs, mein Freund’ and the Quintet. She also produced a trill for Walther’s ‘Coronation’. Reservations remain about her portrayal. I found her Eva somewhat too sophisticated and self-conscious in demeanour, and at the same time not quite impetuous enough. But a first performance is not the time for a final verdict. John Cox had devised a plausible Neueinstudierung. The antics of a subtly differentiated group of Masters, the highly stylized treatment of the furore at the end of Act 2, the development of the Eva-Walther relationship were all evidence of experienced thinking within a given background. Some distinctly erratic lighting was hardly to be blamed on Cox, nor perhaps the new setting for the finale, whose glaring, harsh outlines clashed uncomfortably with what had gone before and would have excluded the celebratory warmth on the Wiese had it not been for the grateful singing of the chorus (though far too few in number) and the contributions of the principals. It seems all modern designers deliberately eschew the beauties of nature on stage— Michael Hopkins (odd to choose an architect with no stage experience) is no exception. But not even this mistake could mar an evening that by and large reposed confidence where it is due—in the composer.

ALAN BLYTH | Royal Opera at Covent Garden, March 29

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Premiere, HO
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 613 MByte (MP3)
A production by Rudolf Hartmann (1969)