Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Lothar Koenigs
Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera
17 July 2010
Royal Albert Hall London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsBryn Terfel
Veit PognerBrindley Sherratt
Kunz VogelgesangGeraint Dodd
Konrad NachtigallDavid Stout
Sixtus BeckmesserChristopher Purves
Fritz KothnerSimon Thorpe
Balthasar ZornRhys Meirion
Ulrich EißlingerAndrew Rees
Augustin MoserStephen Rooke
Hermann OrtelOwen Webb
Hans SchwartzPaul Hodges
Hans FoltzArwel Huw Morgan
Walther von StolzingRay Very
DavidAndrew Tortise
EvaAmanda Roocroft
MagdaleneAnna Burford
Ein NachtwächterDavid Soar

The casting of Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs in Welsh National Opera’s production of Wagner’s comic-opera made this concert a hot ticket even before the company’s performances in Cardiff and Birmingham began to collect highly favourable reviews. Given that a concert presentation of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” in a space as large the Royal Albert Hall risks losing much of its intimacy and humour, it’s perhaps not surprising that it hasn’t been presented at the Proms before. Nevertheless, even without the benefit of surtitles, this proved to be an entertaining and stirring performance.

Lothar Koenings conducting Die Meistersinger at the BBC Proms. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou / BBC Much of the credit for this is due to the insightful and spirited conducting of Lothar Koenigs, the WNO Orchestra supporting the singers with playing of unflagging warmth, character and spontaneity. The lyricism and vitality of the earlier acts were matched by profundity of the Act Three ‘Prelude’ (strings and brass providing an unforced eloquence here) and the buoyancy and élan of the public celebrations later on. The contribution of the 70-strong WNO Chorus was especially impressive, bringing a biting intensity to the ‘riot scene’ in Act Two, a heartbreaking ardour to the townspeople’s ‘Wach’ auf’ in Act Three, and a blaze of joy to the very close of the opera.

Bryn Terfel may have taken on the role of Hans Sachs only recently, but seems to have been playing him for a lifetime, so natural and authoritative is his interpretation, encompassing Sachs’s multiple roles as world-weary philosopher, potential suitor for Eva, counsel to Walther, and hero to the townspeople. There was also some suitably amusing clowning during his interaction with Beckmesser in Act Two. Elsewhere, Sachs’s great monologues were sung with musicality and attention to detail, his response to the greeting of the people in Act Three imbued with feeling. Providing a superb foil to Terfel’s Sachs was Christopher Purves’s comic Beckmesser. Small of stature but large of voice, Purves portrayed Beckmesser as fool father than villain, perplexed by Walther’s arrival in Act One and confounded by Sachs’s hammering in Act Two. Purves’s mastery of slapstick – this was a Beckmesser that would suddenly run away in response to excitement or surprise – brought a great deal of humour.

Richard Wagner (1813-83) in Paris in 1867 Raymond Very presented an elegant and dignified but slightly anonymous Walther von Stolzing, his voice always pleasant but rarely projecting much volume or passion. Amanda Roocroft’s Eva was lively and attractive but also reserved vocally, not making much of an impression until her contribution to the Act Three Quintet. By contrast, Andrew Tortise’s eager and proud portrayal of David was both enjoyable to watch and sung with conviction throughout. Among the other singers, Brindley Sherratt was a musical Pogner and Anna Burford an appealing Magdelene.

Although no stage director was credited, it was clear that some thought had gone into the positioning and movement of the cast. One oddity was that Purves had no slate on which to scrape his chalk during Walther’s song in Act One, although Terfel had a hammer and shoe for interrupting Beckmesser’s song in Act Two. Whatever the reason, the overall impression was one of a special occasion, a credit to all concerned.

Christian Hoskins | Saturday, July 17, 2010 Royal Albert Hall, London


The BBC Proms brought the Welsh National Opera’s hit Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg to the Royal Albert Hall and to the world, via international broadcast.

Bryn Terfel sings his first Hans Sachs this season. Anything Terfel appears in will elicit ecstatic praise because he’s a national hero. He’s iconic, but you don’t have to be Welsh or British to adore him. His sheer presence made Prom 2 unmissable, even for those new to Wagner. A good introduction to the composer and his music.

Terfel was, of course, magnificent. Hans Sachs is an ideal vehicle for his talents. Terfel’s forceful timbre suits the “public” Hans Sachs, revered Meistersinger and shaper of public opinion. The Meistersingers represent civic pride and power: Wagnerian singing is often cursed by “park and bark”. Fortunately Terfel realizes that there’s a lot more to Sachs than public persona. Sachs is a poet after all, and a shoemaker — solitary professions, unlike being a Town Clerk. Notice how Wagner keeps Sachs in relative reserve until Act One, Scene Three.

Terfel’s finest moments thus came in moments where Sachs is on his own, in his workshop, relating to others one to one. “Was duftet doch der Flieder” let Terfel sing quietly. Declamation isn’t Sachs’s style. Terfel’s “Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!” could have had more world-weary pathos, and more delicacy on words like “Der Flieder”. The Elder tree after all, is critical to the whole opera, for it means new growth, just as Walther von Stoltzing brings new ideas to the Meistersingers. Johannesnacht is Hans Sachs’s name-day, to men of his time a potent symbol. But perhaps I quibble, because the Proms reaches mass audiences. Better that Terfel inspires audiences to listen more and discover Wagner in their own time.

Terfel looks the part, physically overwhelming Christopher Purves’s Beckmesser. Terfel’s a big man, but he’s nimble on his feet when he has to be, dancing a merry jig around Purves. What a good idea to incorporate this detail from the full staging into concert performance! It’s invigorating. Sachs may be old, but he’s on the ball. That’s why he sees Walther’s potential.

This Beckmesser, though, easily stands muster against Terfel’s Sachs. Christopher Purves has a real gift for character singing. He moves about in quick, tense gestures, which amplify the acid-brightness of his singing. Beckmesser isn’t an outsider, he’s a Meistersinger and civic leader, an “insider” if there ever was one, obsessed with rules and status and keeping newcomers out. Purves’s Beckmesser is a fool, but too cheerful to be evil. His “songs” are done as amusing parody rather than grotesque. The harpist who really plays the tune of the lute make it sound quite beautiful in a quirky way.

There’s also a lot more to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg than the nationalistic overtones shamelessly hijacked by the Third Reich. So much for their “respect” for Wagner. “Die heil’gen Deutsche Kunst” meant something completely different to Hans Sachs, living as he did during the Reformation, when Germany was being torn apart in the struggle between Lutheran (German) and Catholic (Foreign) values. That’s why Sachs was interested in German identity.

Wagner was doing a Luther, too, trying to develop a new kind of music theatre, based on German tradition, as opposed to French and Italian opera. Germany didn’t exist as nation-state until 1871 — several years after Meistersinger was written. It was a concept with many positive aspects, supported by many for its modernizing potential. This makes the rise of the Third Reich even more troubling, for it is a paradigm of society.

Prom 2 Meistersinger reflected Sachs’s concept of Germania, not Hitler’s. In the WNO production, images of German cultural heroes through the ages are projected onto the stage, reminding us that “holy German art” goes back a thousand years and has produced men like Bach and Goethe. And Art is holy because of what it is, ultimately greater than nations.

Walther von Stoltzing is the real outsider in Nuremberg, having learned singing from nature, from birds in the woods (though he read Vogelweide, showing that he, too, knows tradition).. He’s an aristocrat but significantly declassé, a wanderer like Wagner himself. Because Germany was fragmented until very recently, Germany was full of wanderers, especially after the Thirty Years and Napoleonic wars. Wanderers recur throughout the Romantic genre. Stolzing symbolizes the new.

Raymond Very’s Walther is good, though not transcendentally luminous. The Prize Song is ravishingly beautiful, but Wagner shows how it develops through experience. Walther’s first effort isn’t great, but he meets Eva,. His art is created through love. When Very sings the words “Eva im Paradies”, his voice expands warmly, expressively.

Amanda Roocroft’s voice has mellowed and rounded out well. Even if she isn’t an ingénue, her Eva is very well realized. This must be one of the crowning moments in her career, immeasurably better than when I last heard her sing Eva nearly ten years ago. She was spirited, her voice agile and bright. Die Pognerin is too big a role for a babe, which makes casting tricky. Roocroft convinces through her voice. Arguably, Eva doesn’t have to be a teen. Magdelena (Anna Burford) is older than David, but she appreciates Walther before he does.

The real discovery in this production is Andrew Tortise’s David. He’s wonderful. Tortise’s huge Act One Scene one arias are a tour de force, but Tortise sustains the inner logic through the different stages, pacing himself carefully. On top of this, he acts well, too, a fresher, more impudent Walther in the making. It’s an intelligent characterization, because under the comic surface of the role, David is a powerful figure. Wagner doesn’t write so much for the role for nothing. Like Walther, David is part of the future. Tortise has impressed me several times before in minor parts. Now, with this superb David, Tortise is the future, too.

Brindley Sherratt’s Pogner is authoritative as befits someone of his experience and stage personality. Pogner is a more troubling figure than most productions express, because Sherratt makes him sound so firm. Why is he giving his daughter away, against her will, ostensibly for the sake of art? Can people be traded for abstract ideas? Therein lies one of the dark secrets in this opera.

If art must be controlled through guilds and conformist rules, is it art? Are rules a means of suppression, or bulwarks against dissolution. Implicitly, in the background lurks the idea of a world in constant transition, where standing still means falling back. Perhaps this is why Meistersinger attracts the Far Right, though there’s a lot in it to appeal to the Far Left as well. This set of Meistersingers sang pleasantly, but only Sherratt’s Pogner hinted at more unpleasant levels.

Also very impressive was David Soar’s Nightwatchman — definitely a singer to listen out for.

The Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Orchestra, conducted by Lothar Koenigs, supported the performance solidly. Any performance at the Proms generates its own excitement, which creates an aura of wonder that’s hard to resist. I had a good time, though on purely musical terms this Prom wasn’t a match for other great Meistersingers, though it will be fondly remembered by English-speaking audiences. Nonetheless, the Proms aren’t about perfection. They’re there to get people stimulated, so they have a good time and go on to hear more. Beckmesser values don’t apply.

The Proms are the “Biggest music Festival in the World”, now in its 116th season. BBC Proms 2010 can be heard live, and internationally broadcast live, online and on demand. Please follow this link for more information.

Anne Ozorio

The Telegraph

It must have taken a fleet of pantechnicons to transfer Welsh National Opera’s Meistersinger to the Albert Hall for one night, even without the sets. But it was worth the trouble, because this was an evening to treasure.

Bryn Terfel takes on the immense role of Hans Sachs, the wise cobbler who schemes to make sure the best man wins the Mastersinger’s prize. He displayed an immense range of character and voice, from troubled doubt to scornful laughter, and he towered over his fellow Meistersingers both literally and metaphorically.

But the triumph – for it was a triumph – really belonged to the company. The drama felt better balanced than usual, largely because of baritone Christopher Purves’s electrifying portrayal of Beckmesser, the pedant who tries and fails to win the prize (and the girl). He made Beckmesser into a real force, full of bottled-up energy, rather than the creeping weasel-voiced nonentity we often get. Amanda Roocroft’s tender beautifully soprano voice and appealing manner – though with a touch of fire – made her tailor-made for the role of Eva. Even Eva’s father Pogner, who can seem the biggest bore in all opera, cut a sympathetic figure in Brindley Sherratt’s performance.

The orchestra under Lothar Koenig’s spacious but energised baton played like a dream. The horn section in particular have as taxing a role as Hans Sachs himself, but they never flagged. When the Knight Walther recited his qualifications for being a singer – which can be one of the opera’s ’ho-hum’ moments – it was the frame provided by Philip Heyman’s musing solo viola which made it seem radiant.

But for me the real heroes of the evening were the chorus. They were a fraction of the vast numbers seen the previous night for Mahler’s 8th Symphony, but they made a bigger noise. In the last act, when they welcomed everyone to the contest with the immense shout Wach auf – Awaken the dawn – it was immensely moving, because it made us realise this isn’t Walther’s big day, or Sachs’s. It’s the community’s, which is bigger than either of them, and goes on for ever.

Ivan Hewett | 19 Jul 2010


Almost exactly three months ago, I saw Bryn Terfel on stage at the Metropolitan Opera as Scarpia, Puccini’s snarling, sociopathic sex-obsessed villain. He gave a splendid performance. But his debut as the mastersinger cobbler, Hans Sachs (which I first saw, staged, two weeks ago, at the Wales Millenium Centre in Cardiff, and now again, last night, in a concert performance at the BBC Proms) was in another category altogether. This was a performance, vocally and dramatically (and for Terfel the two are always inextricably linked) which almost takes one beyond the point at which superlatives are adequate.

He gave us a portrait of a humane – and eminently human – Sachs painted lovingly and movingly, using all of his resources as a brilliant lieder singer: crystal-clear enunciation, impeccable phrasing, minute control of dynamics, and his extraordinarily varied palette of vocal colors. In this marathon part, he was in magnificent voice. When required, Terfel pulled out all the stops. But the most eloquent moments (textually and musically) were conveyed with a heart-stoppingly beautiful mezza voce.

His acting was superb as well. I have never seen Terfel so fully inhabit a role. This Sachs had a genial demeanor but was also a creature of dark moods. He was bitter at his lot in life and clearly jealous of Walther. And in the midst of a tight community in which he was rightly celebrated, he was so terribly alone. Terfel made us ache for Sachs – for his profound grief over the loss of his wife and children, and his pain as he rejected Eva’s clear romantic overtures and even helped Walther to win her. The only difference I sensed between Terfel’s staged and concert performances involved psychological nuance. In Cardiff, his Sachs exhibited more moodiness, even anger. In London, these gave way to a very deep sadness, conveyed by his facial expression and gestures as well as his voice.

But the cobbler’s pain was transfigured by his calling (and Terfel’s) and by the redemptive power of music. The visual arts can also transfigure suffering into something of beauty. For example there is the extraordinary series of self-portraits by Rembrandt. My favorite of these is at the Frick Museum in New York and I have spent a great deal of time in the presence of that masterpiece. In the time between the performances in Cardiff and London, I went to Amsterdam, where I paid a visit to the Rijksmuseum. There, as I looked at Rembrandt’s face – the humanity, the hard-won nobility, the suffering transmuted into beauty – my mind was filled with aural memories of Bryn Terfel’s Hans Sachs, heard just six days before.

Sachs is an artist of high principles, who is not rule-bound but is open to new ideas and fresh approaches. He alone sees the potential of Walther. He schemes to outwit and perpetually thwart the plans (romantic and artistic) of Beckmesser, sung in this production by the marvelous Christopher Purves. Terfel was a young, vibrant and vital Sachs with a litheness and grace which surprise given his large frame. But with his ebullient personality, he was also tremendous fun. One of the best comic moments of the evening was the jig he danced around the hapless and helpless Beckmesser.

The rest of the cast performed to a high standard. Christopher Purves showed off his splendid baritone voice and his mastery of comedy – in his gestures, his walk, and his antics, particularly in his scenes with Terfel. In keeping with the general tenor of this production, Beckmesser was nasty but not really evil, more of a buffoon than a villain. Andrew Tortoise was a wonderful David. He’s young and clearly someone to watch. He sang with excellent enunciation and phrasing and a lovely clear voice. He also displayed fine comic instincts.

Amanda Roocroft as Eva was lovely and demure, appearing particularly delicate next to Terfel. His protective manner toward her seemed very fitting. She sang with agility and a pure sweet tone. Raymond Very as Walther improved quite a lot as the evening progressed and sang with a refined tone in his prize song. Brindley Sherratt gave us a dignified Pogner with a sonorous but rather small bass voice. He also improved markedly during the performance. Anna Burford’s Magdalene was marvelous – sung with a full rich, dark sultry tone. The apprentices sang with vitality and conviction.

The orchestra under WNO Music Director Lothar Koenigs was in fine form, conveying both the majesty and the delicacy of Wagner’s music. Their command of the latter was particularly evident in the ethereal quintet. Koenigs was also a sensitive accompanist for the singers. Katherine Thomas, the harpist, provided a wonderfully sprightly “lute” to Beckmesser’s musical offerings.

Aside from Terfel’s Sachs, the second major highlight of this production was the performance of the chorus. This was the WNO ensemble augmented by additional forces. The chorale at the beginning and the “Wach’ auf” near the end were thrilling. One of the most moving moments in an evening filled with such moments occurred when Terfel turned his back to the audience, facing the assembled choir. And they repaid him in full measure, with the greatest gift they could bestow, their voices raised in song, for the honor and the gifts he has given to Wales.

The final words sung by the chorus as Terfel faced them were “Heil dir! Nürnbergs teurem Sachs! Heil! Heil! (Hail to you Nuremberg’s Sachs. Hail! Hail!)” And he responded: “Soll vor der Ehr ich bestehn, Sei’s mich von euch geliebt zu sehn (If I must submit to honor, let it be that of seeing myself loved by you.)”


Bryn Terfel’s next Wagner offering will be his Wotan at the Metropolitan Opera, where he will open the season in Das Rheingold on September 27th. This first installment of the Met’s new Ring cycle, directed by Robert Lepage will be broadcast live in HD on October 9, 2010. In the spring, Terfel will return to the Met for two performances of Das Rheingold and seven performances of Die Walküre, the last of which will be broadcast in HD on May 14, 2011.

Arlene Judith Klotzko | London Royal Albert Hall 07/17/2010

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Broadcast (BBC)
Concert performance BBC Proms 2010
Also available as telecast