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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1868).
Sir Donald McIntyre (bass-baritone) Hans Sachs; Helena Doese (soprano) Eva; Paul Frey (tenor) Walther; John Pringle (bass) Beckmesser; Rosemary Gunn (mezzo) Magdalene; Donald Shanks (bass) Pogner; Christopher Doig (tenor) David; Robert Allman (baritone) Kothner; David Hibbard (bass) Hans Foltz; Arend Baumann (bass) Hans Schwarz; Stephen Bennett (bass) Hermann Ortel; Christopher Dawes (tenor) Augustin Moser; Gerald Sword (tenor) Kunz Vogelgesang; John Miley (tenor) Ulrich Eisslinger; Lawrence Allen (tenor) Balthasar Zorn; Neville Wilkie (bass) Konrad Nachtigall;
Australian Opera Chorus;
The Elizabethan Philharmonic Orchestra /Sir Charles Mackerras.
Live at the Sydney Opera House.
PCM Stereo. Picture format 4:3. Region Code 2,5. Rec.
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 122 [2 DVDs: 277’00]

 

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 Clarke

 



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