Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

André Cluytens
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
20 August 1957
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Hans Sachs Gustav Neidlinger
Veit Pogner Josef Greindl
Kunz Vogelgesang Fritz Uhl
Konrad Nachtigall Egmont Koch
Sixtus Beckmesser Karl Schmitt-Walter
Fritz Kothner Toni Blankenheim
Balthasar Zorn Heinz-Günther Zimmermann
Ulrich Eißlinger Erich Benke
Augustin Moser Hermann Winkler
Hermann Ortel Hans Habietinek
Hans Schwartz Alexander Fenyves
Hans Foltz Eugen Fuchs
Walther von Stolzing Walter Geisler
David Gerhard Stolze
Eva Elisabeth Grümmer
Magdalene Georgine von Milinković
Ein Nachtwächter Arnold van Mill
Opera News

“AUTHENTIC” IS THE WORD THAT SPRINGS TO MIND when listening to this Meistersinger from the 1957 Bayreuth Festival. Although the opera is a mixture of the comic, nostalgic, deeply human, xenophobic and any number of other qualifiers—except, of course, economical—it remains that rare Wagner work that exudes powerful specificity of time and place. One welcome feature of any Meistersinger performance is a sense of style, a uniformity of approach, that evokes that specificity. This one has it, thanks to a largely German cast, peppered with veteran singers. The postwar years at Bayreuth, under the leadership of the Wagner brothers, Wieland and Wolfgang, constituted a sort of golden age. Production values were revolutionized, not to promote a director’s konzept but rather to illuminate themes within the music dramas. The level of singing, acting and conducting was mouthwateringly high—names such as Mödl, Varnay, Hotter, Windgassen, Rysanek, Nilsson and Knappertsbusch abound in the annual rosters. But even a production not boasting those stellar beings frequently offered Wagner at the highest level, as myriad documents from the 1950s in excellent sound attest.

André Cluytens offers a reading here that is consistently buoyant and alive, embodying the spirit of the finest aspects of the work, to do with love, independent spirit, wisdom and humanity. It’s crucial for a Meistersinger to ride the crest of emotions brought on by these aspects of Wagner’s creation, so that when it digs into the rather dark hues of anti-Semitism embodied in the piece, it is not brought down by them. And the performance needs to be truly funny where called for, as this one is. Sometimes, of course, elements collide, as Beckmesser is both the object of the bigotry and the comedy; we find ourselves laughing at him, and then recoil at the Jewish caricature within the character.

An interesting feature of the ensemble here is a certain amount of casting against type. Gustav Neidlinger, the Hans Sachs, was perhaps the most celebrated Alberich of his generation. (His interpretation is preserved on famous recorded Rings conducted by Solti and Böhm.) He channels his edginess into Sach’s sarcastic exchanges with Beckmesser; elsewhere Neidlinger finds a warmer, rounder tone, particularly in duet with the Eva, and in his “Flieder Monologue.” Only toward the end of the first part of Act III does the length of the role begin to take its toll vocally. But his resources return for the final monologue. Beckmesser is perfectly embodied by Karl Schmitt–Walter, then fifty-seven; the light baritone’s somewhat whining, nasal delivery captures precisely the right measure of this pedantic, deeply unimaginative character. His was always a high voice, and even in vocal maturity, the role offers no difficulties in dealing with the range or Wagner’s parody of bel canto (and cantorial style) inherent in the part. A surprisingly perfect David comes from Gerhard Stolze, known for heavier roles like Mime and Herod, and his Magdalene is the marvelous Croatian mezzo, Georgine von Milinkovic, the only non-German in the cast. Josef Greindl is an authoritative, Pogner; he had been singing the role at Bayreuth since 1943, and his cavernous voice is in fine estate.

Eisabeth Grümmer, a singer of consummate elegance and beauty of tone, offers an appropriately spirited yet warm Eva. “Sachs! Mein Freund!” doesn’t get any better, and, save for one slightly glassy high note, she soars splendidly through the famous quintet. Heldentenor Walter Geisler, as Walther, is emphatic in textual delivery throughout, but it takes a bit of time for his voice to warm. Until then, a leathery quality can creep in, not unusual for this voice type with its high compression approach to breath. But, by the final version of the Prize Song, Geisler finds a balance of lyricism and emphasis.

Cluytens was the first French national to conduct at Bayreuth, and led some memorable performances there (among them the spectacular 1958 Lohengrin with Sandor Konya, Leonie Rysanek and Astrid Varnay). The orchestra and chorus perform beautifully for him throughout, including the treacherous Act II Riot Scene. This is a Meistersinger to own—as long as you have access elsewhere to libretto and notes, always absent from Walhall sets.

Ira Siff

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Walhall, OD, OOA
Technical Specifications
309 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 591 MByte (flac)
Broadcast from the Bayreuth festival
A production by Wieland Wagner (1956)