Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Bernard Haitink
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
12 July 1997
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsJohn Tomlinson
Veit PognerGwynne Howell
Kunz VogelgesangAlasdair Elliott
Konrad NachtigallRichard Lloyd Morgan
Sixtus BeckmesserThomas Allen
Fritz KothnerAnthony Michaels-Moore
Balthasar ZornRobin Leggate
Ulrich EißlingerPaul Crook
Augustin MoserJohn Dobson
Hermann OrtelGrant Dickson
Hans SchwartzGeoffrey Moses
Hans FoltzSimon Wilding
Walther von StolzingGösta Winbergh
DavidHerbert Lippert
EvaNancy Gustafson
MagdaleneCatherine Wyn-Rogers
Ein NachtwächterMichael Druiett
The Guardian

Avid Wagnerites have been clamouring for the commercial release of these two performances for ages. Broadcast on Radio 3, from Sadler’s Wells and the Royal Opera House respectively, they have cult status among postwar British Wagner interpretations, and each also represents a significant moment in its company’s history. Reginald Goodall’s English-language performances in 1968 marked the start of a 15-year-long Wagnerian golden age, as far as Sadler’s Wells (later English National) Opera was concerned. Bernard Haitink’s Meistersinger – the high point of his tenure as Covent Garden’s music director – was broadcast in July 1997, on the eve of the house’s closure for refurbishment.

Stylistically, they are antithetical. Goodall’s at times overwhelming performance is at once extremely slow and phenomenally intense, while Haitink is swift, mercurial and altogether more relaxed. Goodall never lets us forget that Meistersinger is a parable of poetic creativity, and there is an overriding sense of metaphysical resonance and elation in his interpretation. Haitink, meanwhile steers us through an urbane social comedy, before anchoring the work in the final scene, when Walther (Gösta Winbergh) gives the song’s first performance, as Sachs (John Tomlinson) gazes contentedly on.

Goodall has marginally the more consistent cast, the product of his determination to train an ensemble of house singers. Bailey’s nobly introverted Sachs has claim to being the most beautiful on disc, and few Walthers have ever matched Remedios in poetic fervour. Winbergh, very much his equal in vocal ease and beauty, is more impulsive and also, tellingly, more obviously aristocratic. Goodall has the better Eva in the ecstatic Margaret Curphey, while Haitink’s Nancy Gustafson is having an off night. On the other hand, Thomas Allen’s subtly characterised Beckmesser, for Haitink, is preferable to Derek Hammond-Stroud’s snarling caricature on the Goodall set.

Tim Ashley | 11 July 2008

The Classical Source

Here is a 1997 “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”, a recording of the final complete operatic performance in the ‘old’ building before it shut for redevelopment and just as the Company entered a period in which its future and sometimes even its survival seemed somewhat uncertain. Those problems were still to come, as there is no doubt that here was a Company on a considerable artistic high. Graham Vick’s truthful, sunny, and minutely detailed production of “Die Meistersinger…” with its Breughel-inspired designs had seen its first performances a few years earlier and was a showcase for some wonderfully observed and sung performances from the main protagonists – most of whom returned for the final performances of that season.

Bernard Haitink. Photograph: Bill Cooper At the helm was Bernard Haitink, who always seemed at his Wagnerian-happiest when conducting this particular production. His tempos are always perfectly judged and the whole score has sweep and natural pace. From the opening bars of the ‘Prelude to Act One’, this is a reading of clarity with all the complexity of Wagner’s counterpoint singing out with amazing lucidity from the orchestra pit. The Mastersingers’ themes are stately and yet have the necessary hint of the portentous about them and leitmotifs emerge with unerring point and emphasis. The string- and brass-playing has just the right amount of warmth tinged with a touch of melancholy and the score just dances along with a sure theatrical foot. Indeed the orchestra was then, as now, an impressive band – listen to the colourful and evocative woodwind-playing in Hans Sachs’s ‘Fliedermonolog’ or the gentle upper strings during the ‘Wahnmonolog’. Beckmesser playing the lute reaches the speakers with absolute clarity, too, and you hear all the wit of Wagner’s writing. If the acoustic is slightly dry, the balance between stage and pit is extremely good – and in this opera that is absolutely vital when so many of the characters make fleeting contributions to the dense text. Haitink is a very singer-sensitive conductor. It was the duo of Thomas Allen and John Tomlinson that were the original pivots of this production and here both singers are caught in their prime.

Thomas Allen. ©Sussie Ahlberg Allen lavished on poor old Beckmesser a beauty and generosity of tone and a true lieder-singer’s detail to text that helped bring this character to brilliant comic life. Beckmesser is after all a member of the Mastersingers guild and therefore must have some talent. His Act Two serenade to Eva comes across as a genuinely serious attempt at wooing, and as Allen sings it is actually rather beautiful – until Sachs’s hammer-blows interrupt and even then he maintains his determination to win through. His Act Three song with all its wrong words is very funny even without the visual reference. Allen captures the irascible pettiness of the character to perfection and also brings pathos to the character (one recalls the moment when Beckmesser first hears Walther from behind the marker’s screen and sat there overwhelmed by the beauty and bravery of it before being startled into action against his supposed rival). It is good to have Allen’s performance enshrined in sound – one just wishes the production had been filmed, too! John Tomlinson Opposite him towers Tomlinson’s Hans Sachs – one of his major Wagner roles that he never sang at Bayreuth. It is very much a Tomlinson performance; sung with unstinting generosity and with little evidence of tiredness across the performance. Like Allen, Tomlinson’s diction is impeccable, and the many facets of Sachs’s character – his geniality, his playfulness, his seriousness and even his anger – are captured with veracity. If the two major encounters with Beckmesser stand out it is because of this matching of two great singing actors. His monologues are nicely contrasted and sympathetically accompanied by Haitink and the Orchestra. Tomlinson is also wonderfully sage when advising Walther how to compose his Prize Song.

Stolzing is sung by the late Gösta Winbergh, a Mozart tenor who moved into heavier territory and become an impressive singer of Lohengrin, Walther and Parsifal. He perhaps gets off to a slightly lethargic start but he excels in the many asides of the second act and unleashes some splendidly expansive and ringing tone for his Prize Song. It is a shame he slightly gets lost in the density of the final ensemble of the first act when one really wants to hear the tenor ardently floating above it all – but that is a small cavil.

As his paramour Eva, Nancy Gustafson is perhaps the one singer who is not so well captured; one is aware of occasional unsteadiness of tone and also somewhat cloudy diction especially in the strenuous higher reaches of the role. This is surprising as in the theatre she always came across as having spirit, dramatic intelligence and considerable poise. The intelligence and vivacity still shine through though. One suspects that like some other great and good singers that the recording process is not flattering to her. It does not help her that the chosen moment for the disc break in the middle of the final act should be at the start of the Quintet – we have the introduction at the end of disc 3 and then the resolution and start of the singing at the beginning of the fourth. Surely some other moment could have been found?

Catherine Wyn-Rogers. Photograph: Gerald Place No such trouble afflicts the Magdalene of Catherine Wyn-Rogers. Her performance is an absolute delight. Diction is crystal clear, and her mellow mezzo is heard to great advantage and she makes the character much more youthful and playful than is often the case and emphasises that this woman has her own concerns and emotions as regards her relationship with David. Again it is the detail in all the characterisations that was such a strong feature of this production. Herbert Lippert makes a sweet-toned and appropriately youthful David, and his description of the art of a Mastersinger in the first act does not become tiresome as it sometimes can.

In the smaller roles are placed some of the House stalwarts. Gwynne Howell sings a genial and paternal Pogner in his warm and rounded bass, and to have Anthony Michaels-Moore in the small but important role of Fritz Kothner is luxury casting indeed. His recitation of the ‘Tabulatur’ is at once witty and Wagner’s brief pastiche of other compositional styles is impeccably sung.

The Chorus is on lusty form. In the final scene on the hillside these singers’ contributions are warm and integral to the performance. There is a nice touch of recklessness verging on ferocity in the Act Two riot. In this production the Chorus’s contribution was incredibly complex – again this makes one wish that the colourful production had been captured visually. In that respect it is a bit of a shame that the photographs in the accompanying booklet are in black and white.

Nevertheless this is an important release. Some great interpretations of the major roles are preserved here and are not available elsewhere. A vital addition to the collection.

Alexander Campbell


The last performances in 1997 before the Royal Opera House closed for rebuilding were of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and although there are some flaws, this emerges in my opinion as the best recording of the work for the last 40 years. Haitink is at his best here, and the Prelude to Act III is played with heartbreaking inwardness, though the Prelude to Act I is less convincingly festive than it might be. John Tomlinson is a slightly rough Hans Sachs, but he hardly tires and his heart is in every note. Gösta Winbergh was the finest Walther to be heard there for many decades, with a voice both dark and romantic, and the Eva of Nancy Gustavson responds rapturously to him. The principals all sing the best-balanced Quintet you will hear on any recording – quite a feat for a live occasion. And once again the all-round standard of the soloists, and the splendour of the chorus and orchestra make this a most exhilarating, moving set. It was the perfect note on which to end that period in the House’s history: more than any other opera, Meistersinger requires dedicated team-work from a huge cast, at least six of whom need to be of star quality. That is what we get here, and so to pick holes in the face of such massive achievement would be petty and irrelevant.

Michael Tanner

User Rating
Media Type/Label
ROHS 008
Technical Specifications
664 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 1,18 GByte (flac)
Broadcast (BBC 3)
A production by Graham Vick (1993)