Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Daniel Barenboim
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
21 – 30 June 1999
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsRobert Holl
Veit PognerMatthias Hölle
Kunz VogelgesangBernhard Schneider
Konrad NachtigallRoman Trekel
Sixtus BeckmesserAndreas Schmidt
Fritz KothnerHans-Joachim Ketelsen
Balthasar ZornThorsten Kerl
Ulrich EißlingerPeter Maus
Augustin MoserHelmut Pampuch
Hermann OrtelSándor Sólyom-Nagy
Hans SchwartzAlfred Reiter
Hans FoltzJyrki Korhonen
Walther von StolzingPeter Seiffert
DavidEndrik Wottrich
EvaEmily Magee
MagdaleneBirgitta Svendén
Ein NachtwächterKwangchul Youn
Mostly Opera

This 1999-filmed Meistersinger was Wolfgang Wagner´s last production at the Bayreuth Festival as well as the last production Daniel Barenboim conducted here. A statement I hope to be able to revise, at least regarding Barenboim.

This is in fact fact one of Wolfgang Wagner´s better productions, though not exactly placing him among the great Wagnerian directors of history. The main problem is that Wolfgang Wagner is a very static director. Índividual direction of the singers and exploring the personal relations of the characters does not seem to interest him, and they all seem left to their own devices. That approach rarely makes for enticing theater. What makes this production vastly better than his preceeding Meistersinger production is the sets: Conservative, but aesthetic and very elegant, stripped of all superfluities. Almost exclusively white. Being modern, according to Wolfgang Wagner, means dressing Peter Seiffert in a combination of pink and red..No doubt that Wolfgang Wagner´s knowledge of his grandfather´s works is immense and vastly exceeds that of virtually any other living director. However, transmitting this knowledge to the audience as engaging theater he unfortunately has never been able to do.

Daniel Barenboim is superb as expected in Wagner´s most treacherous work: While Meistersinger may look relatively easy and straightforward on paper, it takes something special to make it lift off and reveal the depths of the score.

Among conductors alive today I have only heard Christian Thielemann and Daniel Barenboim truly pulling that off and this Meistersinger production offers the most direct opportunity to compare these two: Daniel Barenboim conducted it until 1999, Christian Thielemann took over in 2000, making his debut at the Bayreuth Festival (Thielemann´s Bayreuth Meistersinger is available from the broadcasts). Both are attentive to detail without loosing the bigger picture and both truly understand the structure of the work. Both are grandiose. Christian Thielemann is more glittering, Daniel Barenboim is more powerful, direct and engaged. But the major difference is the impression of narcissism, pathos and sentimentalism (all in the positive sense) one gets with Thielemann. Daniel Barenboim has nothing of that, which is why he ultimately wins. But it is a very close call.

Robert Holl´s Hans Sachs I genuinely do not care for: He is traditional, elderly, uninspired and unenergetic. Vocally, his voice is definitely not unpleasant and he is up to it, without aspiring to greatness though. Dramatically, less so. And the complete lack of chemistry with Emily Magee´s Eva is appalling. Her Eva, for once, is straight and unsentimental, rather a grown-up woman than an adolescent girl. While Peter Seiffert has a great voice and is without doubt among the very few top Wagnerian tenors of today, his stand-and-deliver acting and general appearance, as always, leaves me cold. Also Andreas Schmidt’s Beckmesser, though well sung, doesn´t seem to come across to the (imaginary) audience (the Bayreuth DVDs are always filmed in front of an empty auditorium). Matthias Hölle in his rather short prime, is first rate as Pogner, dignified and well sung.

Is this the preferred Meistersinger on DVD? Before actually watching it, I would have expected it to be. However, I continue to place my money on the Schenk production from the Metropolitan Opera. And no: I am no fan of the endless row of undead Schenk-shows, but this Meistersinger, for once, is rather good.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Robert Holl: 3
Matthias Hölle: 4
Emily Magee: 3-4
Andreas Schmidt: 3-4
Peter Seiffert: 3

Wolfgang Wagner´s production: 2-3

Daniel Barenboim: 5

Overall impression: 3


Barenboim’s Bayreuth years gave us a memorable DVD Ring and Tristan, and he’s probably the best feature here. In Wolfgang Wagner’s previous staging, a current recommendation, veteran Horst Stein conducts with mellow warmth. Barenboim is grander and more detailed but less fluent; his penchant for abrupt accelerando, as in the Act III transition, can be irritating. The newer production is easy enough on the eye, with a convex cyclorama of projections such as fresco patterns, pantiled rooftops and green foliage, overhanging a stepped acting area, mostly bare but for some stark houses in Act II. Wolfgang’s action is equally straightforward, but frequently dull to the point of perfunctory. Act III’s Festweise is stagey, with imported dancers, so David rebukes his fellows for dancing when they aren’t, and the Mastersingers’ entrance is shapeless. Nor do the singers generate much excitement. Best are Emily Magee’s Eva, attractive in voice and person, Endrik Wottrich’s lyrical David, and Andreas Schmidt’s silky-voiced, ‘sensitive’ Beckmesser, like Hermann Prey in the earlier set. Between Peter Seiffert and predecessor Siegfried Jerusalem there’s little to choose vocally, but Seiffert, a huge ‘amphora Heldentenor’, looks more like a Balkan baron than a Franconian knight. Matthias Hölle’s Pogner looks richer than he sounds. Robert Holl’s Sachs is the crippling deficiency, stumpily inexpressive both physically and vocally. The recording is fine visually, but the surround-sound mixes are too remote and echoey. Stein and Mackerras remain benchmarks.

Michael Scott Rohan


Die Meistersinger is easily among my favorite Wagner operas, ranking perhaps with Tristan und Isolde, a work so different in temperament I wonder how I can speak of it in the same sentence with Wagner’s comic masterpiece. Yet they are favorites of mine, and would wind up on a desert-island list, along with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Otello, Prokofieff’s War and Peace and The Fiery Angel, and perhaps Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. Have I forgotten anything?

This Die Meistersinger is an excellent one and offers further evidence that Daniel Barenboim is a splendid Wagner conductor. In general, Wagner operas depend a little more heavily on the conductor than do those by other composers, and Barenboim carries the load well here, with judicious tempos, a good sense for orchestral color and balance, and a deft ability to inspire his singers to turn in thoroughly compelling performances. Hans Sachs here is veteran Robert Holl and he’s just fine throughout. But I think it’s Emily Magee as Eva and Peter Seiffert as Walther who really win over the listener. Magee is radiant and utterly charming in her second act “duet” with Sachs (Gut’n abend, Meister), and Seiffert’s Morgenlicht leuchtend im rosigen Schein is both enchanting and powerful, deftly capturing both light Wagner and epic Wagner together in this brilliant number.

The production, by Wagner’s grandson, Wolfgang Wagner, is visually stunning, at least by modern standards. The costumes are colorful and completely appropriate, rounding out what can be described as an excellent traditional staging of Die Meistersinger. The sound reproduction and camera work are also first-rate. I reviewed a Meistersinger in 2004 here at Classical Net, a performance led by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos (Arthaus Musik 100153). It featured Wolfgang Brendel as Sachs, Gösta Windbergh as Walther and Eva Johansson as Eva. It was a fine offering, but this newer Barenboim version is the better of the two. Highly recommended.

Robert Cummings

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
687 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.24 GByte (flac)
A production by Wolfgang Wagner (1996)
Also available as video recording.