Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Charles Mackerras
Australian Opera Chorus
Elizabethan Philharmonic Orchestra
14 October 1988
Opera House Sydney
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsDonald McIntyre
Veit PognerDonald Shanks
Kunz VogelgesangGerald Sword
Konrad NachtigallNeville Wilkie
Sixtus BeckmesserJohn Pringle
Fritz KothnerRobert Allman
Balthasar ZornLawrence Allen
Ulrich EißlingerJohn Miley
Augustin MoserChristopher Dawes
Hermann OrtelStephen Bennett
Hans SchwartzArend Baumann
Hans FoltzDavid Hibbard
Walther von StolzingPaul Frey
DavidChristopher Doig
EvaHelena Döse
MagdaleneRosemary Gunn
Ein NachtwächterJohn Wegner
Stage directorMichael Hampe
Set designerJohn Gunter
TV directorPeter Butler, Virginia Lumsden
Mostly Opera

Michael Hampe has directed a solidly traditional and straightforward Meistersinger for the Opera Australia in 1988. Traditional, yet simple sets, a sort of combination of Wolfgang Wagner´s 1984 Bayreuth production and the 1995 Berlin Götz Friedrich production. Personally, I prefer the Australian sets to both of the above and furthermore Hampe manages to infuse considerably more life into this rather lively production.

All of the cast were good, though perhaps not exceptional:

Paul Frey looks the part, and while he sings well in the first act, he almost retorts to yelling at the end. Worst, however, he is no more interesting to watch on a stage than in his Bayreuth Lohengrin a couple of years later. Vastly better is Helena Döse´s rather fine Eva reaching the excellent in the performance from John Pringle, whose Beckmesser I recall someone described as “Black Adder of opera”
Donald McIntyre has star quality, which makes up for quite a lot. Vocally he is on the dry side however, the monologues being his weakest points. In the dialogue sections, however, he is excellent – dramatically as well. Though he by the middle of the third act his vocal limits have been reached and in the final monologue he is vocally close to dead.

It is obvious that Sir Charles Mackerras is a fine conductor with genuine grasp of this score, though to my tastes he is too fast and the elusive flow, so critical for Meistersinger never really manifests itself. It is equally obvious that Opera Australia´s orchestra no matter how optimal the conductor and surroundings is no match for the Bayreuth Festival orchestra.

For those preferring a solidly, traditional Meistersinger on DVD, I would still recommend the Metropolitan Opera Schenk/Levine production.

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

Donald McIntyre: 3-4
Paul Frey: 3
Helena Döse: 4
John Pringle: 5

Michael Hampe: 3

Sir Charles Mackerras: 3-4

Overall impression: 3


Known more for his interest in Czech music and Handel, Sir Charles Mackerras at the helm of Wagner’s almighty Meistersinger might rise an eyebrow or two. But Mackerras has routinely demonstrated his dramatic grasp in Janáček, so no surprise that he has a handle (no pun intended) on his Wagner. This is an interesting, very well performed Meistersinger with reliable singers and in a staging that, as shall be seen, never disturbs while never really posing any questions nor illuminating any areas: no aliens, no post-nuclear landscapes, just a very brown Nuremberg.

The insertion of various pictures of old Nuremberg over which are pasted stills of the cast during the course of the Overture is questionable – it is interesting enough, surely, to watch Sir Charles expertly navigate his players through the score (and certainly more involving). The second the chorus enters with its chorale (in that compositional master-stroke), it becomes obvious this is a fairly small set – how are they going to fit everyone in at the end of Act III was my immediate concern!. Yet space is here, as elsewhere, intelligently utilised. Colour-wise, the production is, as noted above, filled with various browns – not very inspiring, one may think, yet there is a sepia-tinge to it all that inspires a kind of fond nostalgia in the viewer.

Bass-baritone Sir Donald McIntyre has impeccable Wagnerian credentials (he took the role of Wotan at Bayreuth in the (in)famous Boulez/Chéreau Ring). He portrays a very human Sachs – both in his universal warm-heartedness and also in his very human ability to love. He seems, curiously, rather thin for this figure (I always imagine Sachs as some sort of semi-cuddly-yet-firm-when-need-be favourite uncle). But that the music is in him is not to be doubted. One can only admire his ‘Jerum! Jerum!’ (great pitching). His Fliedermonolog, though, is ever so slightly rushed. The impression is that this is him applying the accelerator, not Mackerras, although this could be mistaken (as it is definitely Mackerras who pushes on in Act I Scene 3 as Walther tries his hand at a Prize Song; also Pogner’s ‘Johannistag’ speech in the same scene). Some of McIntyre’s very top notes show the tone thinning, but his dignity remains unruffled. By Act III his interpretation is at its height. The Wahn-monologue is simply superb. There is a resigned sadness to the repetitions of ‘Wahn’, and McIntyre positively comes to life when anguish is mentioned in the text. The fact about McIntyre’s account of Sachs is that when one reaches the end of the music-drama, the laudatory chorus that ends the opera is entirely believable. He actually takes the listener/watcher inside the character and for this alone the set is worth the outlay.

Paul Frey takes on the challenging part of Walther Von Stolzing. Frey is no great actor, it is true, but he can be (at least vocally) quite passionate (the passage around ‘Für euch Gut und Blut!’ in Act I Scene 1, for example). His tuning can wander, though (Act III Scene 2 is but one example), and this can be off-putting. Still, he rises to the challenge of the Prize Song laudably.

Sixtus Beckmesser must be one of the most fun roles in the operatic canon to take on. John Pringle is one of the delights of the set, so irritating yet at the same time so amusing. This Beckmesser is positively Loge-like at times (he looks a bit like TV’s Poirot, but slimmed-down), and he and Robert Altman’s Kothner make a wonderful pair. In fact Altman is an excellent singer, both technically and interpretatively.

Rosemary Gunn’s Magdalene can be delightfully cheeky. At first she even seems to eclipse her Eva, for Helena Doese takes a little while to warm into her role. This Eva can be a little warbly at times, although she holds a fair range of nuance within her voice (including a Brünnhilde impression in Act III Scene 3, ‘Selig sind die Sonne’!).

Pogner is distinguished-looking Donald Shanks, possessed of huge voice. Christopher Doig is a highly musical David; his, ‘Damit, Herr Ritter, ist’s so bewandt’ of Act I is but one example of many of this musicality.

The apprentices are youthful and highly mobile, yet this is perhaps not entirely reflected in their vocal contributions.

On technical presentation, most appears to be well. A word of warning to be prepared at the end of Act I – just let the disc play and you are in Act II much quicker than I imagine most would want. Nevertheless this remains a highly recommendable Meistersinger, the whole of which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Colin Clark

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Arthaus Musik, Kultur
Technical Specifications
720×576, 3.5 Mbit/s, 6.5 GByte, 4:3 (MPEG-4)