Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
19 – 27 February 1995
Deutsche Oper Berlin
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsWolfgang Brendel
Veit PognerVictor von Halem
Kunz VogelgesangDavid Griffith
Konrad NachtigallBarry McDaniel
Sixtus BeckmesserEike Wilm Schulte
Fritz KothnerLenus Carlson
Balthasar ZornVoker Horn
Ulrich EißlingerPeter Maus
Augustin MoserOtto Heuer
Hermann OrtelHans Lang
Hans SchwartzIvan Sardi
Hans FoltzFriedrich Molsberger
Walther von StolzingGösta Winbergh
DavidUwe Peper
EvaEva Johansson
MagdaleneUte Walther
Ein NachtwächterPeter Edelmann
Stage directorGötz Friedrich
Set designerPeter Sykora
TV directorBrian Large
Mostly Opera

This 1995 Götz Friedrich Meistersinger production from Deutsche Oper is still on the repertoire, most recently in February 2008, where I attended a rather fine live performance in Berlin.

Why several reviewers have praised this DVD as both insightful, interesting and revelatory is beyond me. I simply find it boring, though not as much as Wolfgang Wagner´s un-dead Bayreuth productions.

The staging is simplistic with a declining toy village image of the city of Nürnberg in the backgounrd as well as some images of 1945 Nürnberg apparently serving to distance the staging from the nationalistic aspects associated with the work, allegedly Hitler´s favourite Wagner opera and performed during the 1930´s party rallies in Nürnberg. Other than that, Götz Friedrich´s ideas seemed rather sparse.

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos is an interesting conductor, and musically many aspects work rather well. However, Meistersinger is above all a conductors opera and both James Levine and Daniel Barenboim are hard to beat on DVD, the latter in particular.

Wolfgang Brendel is a rather fine Sachs, though I´d personally prefer more sparkle as well as more (some?) chemistry with Eva Johansson´s Eva, a part she can sing, but which doesn´t seem ideal for her. Best was Gösta Winbergh as a both vocally solid and dramatically believable (though not too young) Walther. The additional cast all performed well, without stealing the show.

For those not keen on the Metropolitan Opera Schenk production, this may be worth exploring.

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

Wolfgang Brendel: 4
Eva Johansson: 3-4
Gösta Winberg: 4
Eike Wilm Schulte: 3

Götz Friedrich´s production: 3

Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos: 4

Overall impression: 3


This is always spoken of as Wagner’s “most human” opera, and this performance is the finest example of that observation I’ve encountered. Updated to the late-19th century with no particular iconoclastic ax to grind by director Götz Friedrich, this production, premiered at the Deutsche Oper in 1993 (the taping of this performance was in 1995), is remarkable in its warmth, character delineation, and refusal to caricature anyone. The mastersingers are not bad guys–they’re just provincial snobs who are afraid of anything too new. What goes on in the background with the townspeople is as important as what’s happening to the main players. The people on stage look real; the chorus is made up of individuals.

Beckmesser is not a total fumbling jerk, he’s just crazy about Eva and self-deluded; Sachs is a thoughtful man in middle-age, somewhat downhearted but mostly able to see himself and what’s around him with affability; Walther is not a firebrand out to either cause trouble or upset the norm, he’s just a guy with some new ideas about singing, which, it turns out, are just as good as the old ideas around him; Pogner is a very serious, wealthy man, whose old-fashioned notions include a sense that he knows what’s best for his daughter. No one is despicable; everyone is recognizable. They move and act like people we know.

Wolfgang Brendel is a youngish-looking, thoughtful, very observant, thoroughly natural Sachs who seems as if he’s learning things about himself in real time. His fine voice never tires and he never barks or pushes, singing the role as lyrically as a spring night. The Walther of Gosta Winbergh is ardent in an almost Italianate way; in his Act 2 exchange with Eva he’s really angry and upset. In fact, throughout, Winbergh is more vocally extroverted than any Walther I’ve ever seen–he’s more manly than boyish–and his voice rings brightly and true.

Eva in the person of Eva Johansson is lovely, and she and Sachs sparkle in their almost-romantic second-act exchange; if Walther hadn’t come along, perhaps they might have made a good couple. Johansson makes less of the quintet than I’d like, but otherwise she’s close to ideal. Eike Wilm Schulte sings every note of Beckmesser’s music, and he exasperates his fellow Meistersingers as much as he does our hero and heroine–and us. It’s a colorful, non-vulgar portrayal. Victor Von Halem’s Pogner is suitably solemn, and he physically towers over the other characters just as his opinions put the plot in motion. The David and Magdalene of Uwe Peper and Ute Walther are vivid and well sung, and the other mastersingers, chorus, and orchestra are ideal. Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos keeps the action moving, with the second-act melée nice and clear, and he elicits beautifully thoughtful playing from the Deutsche Oper orchestra in the opera’s many tender moments.

Peter Sykora’s sets are good-looking, useful, and frill-free, and the first act features, to one side, a colorful banner of a Star of David, with the Biblical David and his lyre superimposed: the universality of music watches over even a city with the troubled past of Nuremberg. There is less overt wacky humor in this production than there is affection and open-heartedness, and no one can argue with that. If you love Meistersinger, this production, with a sharp picture, fine stereo sound, and subtitles in four languages, will make you very happy.

Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 9

Robert Levine

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Arthaus Musik, Ediciones del Prado
Technical Specifications
720×576, 1.5 Mbit/s, 2.95 GByte (MPEG-4)