Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Artur Bodanzky
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
Date/Location
22 February 1936
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
Hans SachsFriedrich Schorr
Veit PognerEmanuel List
Kunz VogelgesangMarek Windheim
Konrad NachtigallLouis D’Angelo
Sixtus BeckmesserEduard Habich
Fritz KothnerJulius Huehn
Balthasar ZornAngelo Badà
Ulrich EißlingerGiordano Paltrinieri
Augustin MoserMax Altglass
Hermann OrtelArnold Gabor
Hans SchwartzDudley Marwick
Hans FoltzJames Wolfe
Walther von StolzingRené Maison
DavidHans Clemens
EvaElisabeth Rethberg
MagdaleneKarin Branzell
Ein NachtwächterArnold Gabor
Gallery
Tribune

Wagner’s ‘Meistersinger’ in a Notable Revival at the Metropolitan

Shortly after 8 o’clock last night a thing happened at the Metropolitan Opera House which is not easy to describe, for it involved a mystery. Some one on the stage called out very loudly and raucously, “Now begin!” and a young man in knightly doublet and hose and plumed hat defiantly echoed the command, which was evidently directed at him. As he did so, strings, like a liberating wind, swept the orchestra out of the key of G, where it had been rather uneventfully playing, into the key of F. And then a miracle occurred; for there before us was no longer a company of hard working, rent-paying orchestral players and an anxious, bespectacled conductor coaxing reluctant music from implements of brass and wood and catgut, but an Old World countryside in Spring, with an irrepressible young poet singing in a nearby wood, and the green tides of May running over hedgerows and gardens and orchards under a gusty sky. Gone were the lust and villainies of Scarpia and his sinister Roman drawing-room; gone were the subversive garlands and scented pieties of the Alexandria of Thais and Nicias and Athaneal, the idols of Ethiopians and chanting priestesses of Aida’s Egypt – gone as if they had never been; for Wagner’s “Meistersinger:” had been restored to us, and the most transporting Spring Song in all music was being sung to us again.

It is more than six years since “Die Meistersinger” was performed at the Metropolitan. It was last heard there on April 7, 1917, with a cast that included Gadski as Eva, Sembach as Walther, Weil as Hans Sachs, Goritz as Beckmesser and Reiss as David. Mr. Bodanzky conducted. Then the war involved us, and German opera vanished from the boards of the Metropolitan for many a day. The revival of “Die Meistersinger” continues the progressive reinstatement of Wagner which has already accomplished the restoration of “Parsifal,” “Tristan,” “Lohengrin,” ‘Tannhäuser,” and “Die Walküre” to the Metropolitan list.

Mr. Gatti-Casazza gave the marvelous work last night with a cast that included only two of the principals who were heard in it six years ago – Miss Kathleen Howard as Magdalena and Mr. Clarence Whitehill as Hans Sachs; though Mr. Bodanzky was again enthroned on the conductor’s dais. All heard in their rôles for the first time in New York. These were Florence Easton as Eva, Rudolf Laubenthal (the new German tenor of the company) as Walther won Stoltzing, Gustav Schützendorf as Beckmesser, Paul Bender as Pogner and George Meader as David. Arnold Gabor, the new Hungarian baritone, made his debut in the small but essential part of the Night Watchman. The opera was newly mounted, with scenery by the industrious Professor Kautsky of Vienna.

It is a quarter of a century since that naïve and trusting soul, Mr. George Bernard Shaw (as he then signed himself), made the momentous discovery that the hero of “Die Meistersinger” was merely a “widower who cobbles shoes, writes verses and contents himself with looking on at the sweetheartings of his customers”; which causes you to wonder what Mr. Shaw thinks the Prelude to the third act of “Die Meistersinger” is all about – that matchless reverie which, as Wagner himself has told us, “impresses the anguish of a deeply stirred soul – the bitter cry of the resigned man who presents to the world a composed and cheerful countenance.” The Sachs of Wagner’s imagination is, in those intenser moments when he confronts his own heart, and of Hardy’s terrible poem, “I Look Into My Glass” – the middle-aged lover with his wintering body shaken in the evening of its days “with throbbings of noontide.” It is this element in “Die Meistersinger” which makes it so much more moving and profound a thing than Mr. Shaw supposed it to be. He called it a work full of health, fun and happiness” (which, to be sure, it is externally), containing not a single bar of love music that can be described as passionate.” If Mr. Shaw meant merely that the love music of Walther and Eva and the poignant brooding of Sachs are in a different world from the love music of Tristan and Isolde, that is, of course, as true as it is obvious. Perhaps mere lyric ecstasy and “the anguish of a deeply stirred soul” (in Wagner’s phrase) do not come within Mr. Shaw’s definition of human passion. At all events, he seems to have been curiously unresponsive in his “Perfect Wagnerite” days, to the special quality of the music of “Die Meistersinger”‘ its captivating fusion of boisterousness and beauty, gayety and sweetness, processional pomp and romantic ardor, the warmth and depth of his humanity, the sweet mellowness of its spirit, its magical recapturing of the hue and fragrance of a vanished day. It is the snaring and conveying of this special quality of “Die Meistersinger” which makes an eloquent performance of it so difficult. Beyond any work in the standard list, it demands of its interpreters and almost impossibly sensitive comprehension of its essential spirit.

It is therefore high praise to say of last night’s revival of the work at the Metropolitan that at many moments this essential spirit had been apprehended and was conveyed. It was evident, as it has so often been before, in the gentle, poised and beautifully tender Sachs of Mr. Whitehill; though we could not help wondering if Mr. Whitehill had seen eye to eye with Wagner in studying that phase of the character which we have discussed; it fundamental gravity, its deep sadness that is controlled and sweetened by serenity and strength. It was evident, too, in Mr. Bender’s mellow Pogner, and in the delightful Eva of Miss Easton – a fresh disclosure to New York of her versatility, her flexibility of imagination, her sympathetic comprehension of widely differing styles.. Eva is not, to tell the truth, one of the most engrossing females in Wagner’s lyrico-dramatic collection, which includes such adorable and perturbing creatures as Isolde, Brünnhilde, Sieglinde and Kundry. Eva is of the lesser breed – though she is much more lovable, to be sure, than Elsa or Senta or Gutrune. She can be made to seem at the hands of a mediocre interpreter, merely an insipid, flaxen-haired, Teutonic ingénue, odorous of bread and butter. But there is more in her than that: there is the fragrant breath of sincere and naïve romance and last night Miss Easton made her authentically alive and vivid and high-spirited, full of salt and savor.

The new Walter, Mr. Laubenthal, who hails from Berlin, possess that gift of gifts, a girth under strict control, and thus he is a refreshing contrast to the German tenors of long tradition, whose waistlines had vanished in the mist of an indulgent past. Mr. Laubenthal is personable, he is young and he had charm. His acting was rather tentative and unresourceful last evening, and he seemed a gentle and timorous knight, wistfully indecisive. His voice is not luscious, but it is much better than one has been accustomed to expect from singers of his school.

Mr. Schützendorf’s Beckmesser is an excellent characterization, and greatly entertained the embattled Wagnerites who filled the house. Mr. Schützendorf does not follow the pointless tradition which insists upon denying that Beckmesser is essentially a comic character. To play him seriously is to make unhumorous nonsense of the part, and Mr. Schützendorf did not commit this error. He steered a judiciously true course between extravagant clowning and grim sobriety; and he succeeded in being extremely amusing in the gloriously comic scene of the serenading of the supposititious Eva.

Mr. Meader was an admirable David, and Miss Howard disclosed a much improved and attractive Magdalena. Mr. Gabor will doubtless make more of the Night Watchman’s great scene at the close of the second act, when he has learned his way about the Metropolitan Bigger and Better Nuremberg – a handsome, prosperous and substantial city as painted by Professor Kautsky. Who cares whether the interior of the Katherinekirche in the first act is or is not an accurate historical reproduction or whether the linden tree in front of Pogner’s house seems capable of fragrance? For Wagner has made his orchestra as fragrant as June twilight, and last night much of that fragrance escaped from the orchestra pit and ravished the senses of the devoted Wagnerites in the audience, so that they committed the impiety of applauding Mr. Bodanzky before he had played the Watchman off the stage and Professor Kautsky’s new full moon above the gables of the sleeping town. But Mr. Bodanzky has surely forgiven them by this time for their pleasure in his musicianly conducting was obvious and warm.

“It has become clear to me that this work will be my most consummate masterpiece” wrote Wagner to his Mathilde. It was not the first time he had thought about a work upon which he was engaged; but perhaps, in this case, he was right. It is hard to differ with him as you listen to the wondrous score with its Shakespearean abundance, its Shakespearean blend of humor and loveliness, its perfect veracity and transcendent art.

Lawrence Gilman

MusicWeb-International.com

No doubting whom the star is here. The booklet cover declares this is ‘FRIEDRICH SCHORR in Richard Wagner’s …’. Note the capitals, here faithfully reproduced. Although Bodanzky’s name is there on the box cover, it is completely absent from the booklet cover. All of this is indicative of ‘Meistersinger as the Friedrich Schorr Show’; 36 minutes of tacked-on excerpts with other conductors under the umbrella heading of ‘Schorr as Hans Sachs’ kind of confirm impressions. Sure, there is no doubting Schorr’s stature, but let us not forget that the great Elisabeth Rethberg is there as Eva, not to mention Emanuel List (Pogner) …

Whilst Schorr’s Sachs was preserved in recorded excerpts, no complete opera was recorded in the studios, so it is to the broadcast archives we must go. Schorr sang at the Met for a full twenty seasons (taking 19 different roles). This Meistersinger was recorded with a single mike pick-up so perspectives can be mobile as characters move around the stage. There are also some cuts to the score, including the second verse of Sachs’ ‘Jerum’. Guild have ‘slid in’ much of Sachs’ response to the crowds’ acclaim (‘Euch macht ihr’s leicht’) from Schorr’s 1931 commercially-available Victor 7682, altering the acoustic space to fit the present performance. All this shows remarkable care on the side of Guild, and the result is a glowing Meistersinger, not least because of Herr Schorr himself.

It does take the ear a while to adjust, though. The overture is shrouded in the mists of time, but it becomes clear there is much dedication at work here. The woodwind peck away nicely and in the main there is a serene lyricism. A pity Bodanzky spoils the close of the overture, rushing in the final pages and in the process spoiling the ‘surprise’ choral entry. Perhaps this was in an attempt to foreground the lighter side of Wagner, but it takes away the triumphant feel of the climactic fanfares, and their pre-echoes of the close of the opera.

Schorr is magnificent, especially in the second act. He is gripping right from the outset; the ‘Flieder monologue’ is exquisitely fragranced; and he is nice and lusty at ‘Jerum! Jerum!’. The Eva, Elisabeth Rethberg, sounds tremulous at this point (‘Guten Abend, Meister!’), but nevertheless remains touching and delicate. If there remain finer documents of Rethberg’s art, she nevertheless remains the epitome of youthful freshness.

But whatever Schorr’s strengths in the first two acts, his art reaches its zenith in Act 3. The warm, dark tone speaks of an all-knowing compassion in the ‘Wahn monologue’; he remains the mainstay of this performance. Perhaps that design was right after all …

Rene Maison takes the part of Walther. In Act 2 he sounds rather unfortunately like Mime, throwing Rethberg’s lyricism into high relief, but the advantage is that both of them sound youthful, as is entirely appropriate. The Act 3 ‘Morgenlied’ is confident and inspiring, as of course it should be. Eduard Habich is Beckmesser, and very funny he can be, too. Emanuel List is another famous name, here taking Pogner. Impressive as he is, he can ‘crack’ at critical moments.

Julius Huehn is a powerful Kothner, if sometimes a little approximate. Hans Clemens takes the part of David, a role he was particularly associated with at the Met, and it shows. This performance is six years into his Met career, and his confidence is most impressive. Magdalene (contralto Karin Branzell, who also sang Fricka and Waltraute at Bayreuth) is rich of tone and clear.

Bodanzky provides a reading which is always fluent if not of entirely exalted nature. Not for him the heights of a Karajan or a Jochum. There are memorable passages, however. The Prelude to Act 3 is rapt and sonorous of utterance, attaining a dignity and breadth that makes one wish the entire performance were like this. The greatest shame is that the finale is not as apocalyptic as it could be, a direct result of Bodanzky’s somewhat limited vision. Despite many insights along the way, and many pleasures (chiefly from Schorr), one does not emerge uplifted at the end, and this is surely an acid test of a performance’s effectiveness.

The Schorresque appendix is fascinating, even if only approximate dates and only one source number is the sum total of discographical information (is the Malchior/Heger excerpt DA1227, for example?).

It is always good to be reminded of conductor Albert Coates’ prowess as a Wagnerian, and his strong conducting of another ‘Flieder monologue’ is welcome. Rethberg is on excellent form in ‘Sieh’ Evchen!’ (VIC8195, December 1925). Coates’ direction again triumphs in ‘Aha! Streicht die lene’ (May 1930), which is lovely, and expansive in conception (if not necessarily in tempo). How better to finish this ‘Meistersinger experience’ off, but with the quintet , ‘Selig, wie die Sonne meines Glückes lacht’, conducted by the miraculous John Barbirolli with a line up that includes Elisabeth Schumann and Melchior. Here is miraculous music-making, hushed and guaranteed to transfix.

Colin Clarke

Classical.net

Guild continues to thrill all serious historical collectors with their stunningly produced resurrections from the vast and unique library of the Metropolitan Opera. After having given us a complete “Dream Ring”, they now turn their attentions to a magnificent 1936 broadcast of the monumental “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” with Friedrich Schorr at the absolute peak of his prime.

The usual glitches apart, this set can confidently be recommended as the finest “Meistersinger” ever recorded. As far as I can discover, it is complete from first note to last and the array of singers assembled here almost beggars belief. Friedrich Schorr is absolutely unimpeachable as Hans Sachs, he is a cajoling, pleading, authoritative gentleman with a titanic voice that almost bursts through the crackly radio sound.

[From the booklet notes: “The performance is itself is afflicted by what seems like a thousand of those infamous Bodanzky cuts. These are not only of one or another substantial passage but of stanzas and sometimes single lines. To detail them all would require far more space than is available but it can be said here that besides numerous cuts in Act I (much of David’s music), the second verse of Sachs’ Jerum is omitted, followed by large cuts in the Sachs-Beckmesser passage. Act III is riddled with cuts including a portion of the Walther-Sachs scene (from Doch lehrt es wohl den zauberspruch to Doch lasst dem Ruh followed by the second half of Walther’s Morgenlied. Beckmesser’s passages are repeatedly sliced away, as is Sachs’ imme schustern and all of Hat man dem Schuhwerk, cutting to Eva’s O Sachs mein freund.

Then in Act III the complete second stanza of Walther’s Preislied is omitted and worse of all, the central passage connected with the humanity and gentle wisdom of Sachs, his contemplative response to the acclaim of the crowd Euch macht ihr’s leicht is jarringly cut, of which only eight lines survive. As a result, this ends the great oration before it is barely begun. This is so painful to endure and does such injury to Schorr’s celebrated characterization of Sachs that we have seamlessly interpolated the missing music from Schorr’s 1931 commercial disc (Vic. 7682) altered in sonics to fit the acoustic of this broadcast.” -Ed.]

But Schorr is not alone in greatness. The opera is conducted by the much underrated Arthur Bodanzky, a great conductor in all departments and there is also Elisabeth Rethberg. By all accounts, this is an Eva for all time and the combination of all three artists is absolutely beyond reproach. Habich’s Beckmesser is also unforgettable as are the other smaller roles taken by Maison, Branzell and List’s delightful Pogner.

I grew up with Karajan’s 1971 Dresden version and find his 1951 Bayreuth recording much overrated. Solti’s recordings are slightly flawed and Kempe’s genial 1958 version with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra remains my firm favourite. However, this new version will win pride of place amongst my growing Wagnerian collection for its unique sense of occasion and its sense of a live recording that is quite remarkable.

Gerald Fenech

classical-music.com

The most welcome discovery in this current crop of historical Wagner releases is the improved source material Guild has located for the 1936 Met broadcast of DIE MEISTERSINGER. Artur Bodanzky’s performance persistently cuts chunks both small and large from Wagner’s score, but his nimble touch is generally appealing, and he isn’t impatient with inward moments – his Act III Prelude, which incorporates generous string portamento into the theme Wagner treats imitatively, is particularly striking. The cast is largely ordinary or – in the case of Emanuel List’s Pogner– having an off-day, but exceptions include Julius Huehn (a Kothner who, for once, can treat coloratura passages with vocal mastery), the memorably substantive Eva of Elisabeth Rethberg and the Hans Sachs of Friedrich Schorr. With a voice less seamless and consistent than it once was, Schorr fashions introspective depth through subtle understatement, by tapering already quiet phrases and by treating music as an extension of the pronunciation of the words. In Act III especially, one can find telling insights into Sachs’s character in nearly every inflection. Arturo Toscanini dismissed Schorr during rehearsals for the Salzburg Meistersinger production a few months after this performance. That incident has been portrayed variously as a clash of artistic wills, stubbornness on Schorr’s part, a symptomatic demonstration of Toscanini’s musical limitations, or a simple case of Schorr’s voice becoming less reliable. He does sound considerably the worse for wear in Die Walküre Act II even later in 1936, included in a new Guild set of SAN FRANCISCO broadcasts, and Toscanini wrote during the Salzburg rehearsals that Schorr was ‘hoarse and breathless on the high notes’. The Salzburg broadcast of MEISTERSINGER from the following year (1937), now released on Andante, features Schorr’s replacement, Hans Hermann Nissen, whose full, reliable voice is as pleasing as his impersonation of Sachs is plain. Although Toscanini clearly differentiates between the liveliness of the apprentices and the gravitas of Pogner, he frequently sacrifices dramatic light and shade on the altar of musical continuity (most obviously in the David-Walter scene in Act I), and the horn-heavy recorded balance obscures his achievements in the realm of sonority. TOSCANINI’s 1941 Wagner concert on Guild – intense, clean-textured and viscerally exciting – is more representative of his best work. If he makes the climax of the Lohengrin Prelude too brutal for some tastes, the searing lyrical force in this account of the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde is sui generis. In duets from Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung, Helen Traubel and Lauritz Melchior are superb vocal athletes who thrillingly realise the outsized vigour that Toscanini’s approach demands. Guild’s sound is less precise than RCA’s rival issues of the duets, both for good and for ill. Under Bruno Walter’s warmly lyrical direction in the famous HMV recording of DIE WALKÜRE Act I (released in very clean transfers on Naxos), Melchior’s Siegmund is a more rounded realisation – or perhaps inspiration for his richer palette stems from association with Lotte Lehmann’s Sieglinde, one of the greatest of all Wagnerian characterisations. Can there be anything more vividly yet subtly expressive than her ‘Der Männer sippe’? The accompanying recording of Act II is not as indispensable despite the mellifluous dignity with which the young Hans Hotter endows Wotan – Melchior sounds more convincing in the Guild/San Francisco performance of this act, and despite a little more roughness Lehmann, too, makes at least as powerful an impression there. The gem among the non-Wagner selections on that Guild set is Manon Act II with Tito Schipa and Bidù Sayão. As with Lehmann, it’s valuable to hear the extent to which a live performance setting intensifies the polished singing of Schipa – and does not seem to affect the Brünnhilde of Kirsten Flagstad, which sounds just as rich and sovereign here as in later studio recordings. Both at the end of the Walküre act in this set and at Sachs’s ‘Euch macht ihr’s leicht’ in the Meistersinger set, Guild inserts other recordings to create greater completeness than that contained in the original source material or performance – a confusing practice for those who would prefer to see these sets as documents of a given occasion. OTTO EDELMANN possessed a singular bass voice, wide in range but not very deep in sonority, and with a rather ‘white’ sound on some high notes. Preiser’s reissue of his early LP programmes of (mostly Wagner) arias has some successful vocal moments, but from a dramatic standpoint Edelmann’s readings seem superficial – no torment emerges from his Dutchman or Amfortas, and, beside Schorr, even his famous Sachs seems faceless and blithely unperceptive.

Rating
(8/10)
User Rating
(4.8/5)
Media Type/Label
EJS
M&A, Guild, Immortal Performanes, OOA
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Technical Specifications
490 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 518 MByte (flac)
Remarks
Matinee broadcast
A production by Wilhelm von Wymetal (1923)
Heavily cut version by Bodanzky