Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Hans Rosbaud
Coro e Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI
Date/Location
12 February 1955 (act 1, 2)
13 February 1955 (act 3)
RAI Milano
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
Hans SachsOtto Edelmann
Veit PognerLudwig Weber
Kunz VogelgesangHerbert Handt
Konrad NachtigallLeo Pudis
Sixtus BeckmesserErich Kunz
Fritz KothnerKarl Paul
Balthasar ZornMario Carlin
Ulrich EißlingerTomaso Spataro
Augustin MoserVincenzo Maria Demetz
Hermann OrtelEraldo Coda
Hans SchwartzGiuliano Ferrein
Hans FoltzDario Caselli
Walther von StolzingHans Hopf
DavidGerhard Unger
EvaElisabeth Schwarzkopf
MagdaleneIra Malaniuk
Ein NachtwächterGiuliano Ferrein
Gallery
Reviews
Opera News

At first glance, this first-ever release of a 1955 RAI Milan broadcast looks a lot like the classic EMI recording made from a composite of performances at the 1951 Bayreuth Festival, with Hans Rosbaud replacing Herbert von Karajan as conductor. Six leading cast members are the same. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf never returned to Bayreuth and seldom sang any Wagner on stage after that single season. Otto Edelmann’s Sachs, Hans Hopf’s Walther, Erich Kunz’s Beckmesser, Gerhard Unger’s David and Ira Malaniuk’s Magdalena, however, were a cast of choice in Europe, and to a lesser degree at the Met (where Edelmann, Hopf and Kunz performed those roles) during the first half of that decade.

This is no mere remake, however. The two recordings are quite dissimilar, in part because of musical and temperamental differences between the two conductors, and perhaps because of a more relaxed atmosphere in a studio broadcast versus the tensions and uncertainties of live Bayreuth performances. While the timings of the two performances are remarkably close, Rosbaud (1895–1962), one of the under-appreciated conductors of the last century, is more flexible and sometimes more rhythmically acute than Karajan. The RAI orchestra can’t compete with Bayreuth for precision and sweetness of tone, but there is an immediacy, and an overtly songful effect in the Italians’ sound that grabs the ear. A notable example is the intensity and passion of the third act prelude, and subsequently, Rosbaud’s pacing of the scene in which Sachs helps Walther compose the prize song — a segment that can become tedious and rambling, but here seems natural and logical in its progression.

Edelmann (who would go on to sing Hans Sachs forty-four times at the Met) was closely identified with the role throughout his career. His rich bass-baritone easily encompassed the role’s low and high tessitura, and he possessed the technique and intelligence to make every phrase meaningful. The way he sculpts “Dem Vogel, der heut’ sang” in the Fliedermonolog is one moment that stands out, while the final pages of his Wahnmonolog rise to heights of expressivity.

Schwarzkopf is said to have called the Bayreuth Eva some of her best singing on record. It is, but she sounds even more radiant here. Her timbre is full yet shining, her attention to verbal details even more salient because of greater proximity to the microphones. Her singing is intimate in declamatory lines, but when called for to sing high or full voice, she soars with an ampleness and fervor not usually associated with her voice or temperament. She is playful in her Act II duet with Walther, opulent in her outburst, “O Sachs, mein Freund.” She shapes the opening lines of the Quintet with consummate control of breath and color, and in her single line to Walther after the prize song, “Keiner wie du so hold,” spins an exquisite legato phrase that ends in a golden-age trill.

Hopf’s Walther is much the opposite: pure muscle with hardly any variety of color or shaping of the phrases. His voice was a genuine Heldentenor. He could belt out sustained high lines untiringly, and project lower passages with baritonal abundance. But it’s a dry, unpleasant quality, unromantic in his encounters with Schwarzkopf’s Eva, lacking the honeyed lines essential to the prize song. Unger’s David, in contrast, is a complete delight. This character’s youthful buoyancy and optimism comes through in every note. His diction is exemplary, and he makes David’s brutally high-lying phrases sound like fun.

Erich Kunz was a famous Beckmesser, but his virtues were more histrionic than purely vocal. He delineates this unlikable figure superbly in his sound, without exaggeration, but the sound itself is acrid and unsteady. Ludwig Weber’s Pogner is magnificent in sound, a great deep bass voice matched by high interpretive wisdom. His eloquent, characterful Act I address proves that Wagner singing at its best is pure bel canto. His contribution alone would make this set worth having. Weber and baritone Karl Paul — an adequate but pallid Kothner — are the only major roles not duplicated on the Karajan recording. The remaining mastersingers, mostly Italians, are individually acceptable, though their important ensembles in Act I are not meticulously accurate.

ROBERT CROAN

Rating
(7/10)
User Rating
(4/5)
Media Type/Label
Walhall Eternity
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Technical Specifications
330 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 606 MByte (flac)
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