First things first. This is "Die Meistersinger," an operatic ... sorry, RW ... a music drama masterpiece that the composer set forth in the AAB form of a Meisterlied--although an unusually long one.
This is a live recording of a wartime performance at the Bayreuth Festival. Overall, the sound is not bad, considering its age. It does set my teeth on edge during the prelude and again in the great procession of guilds in Act III, a passage that is not helped by the choristers whooping it up a little too much in the background.
The text of the recording has suffered the vicissitudes of fate and time. The most notable omissions are the meeting of Eva and Walther in the church in Act I and, far, far worse, the great quintet in Act III.
The conducting is wonderful throughout--exactly as one would expect from such an extraordinary man on the podium.
The singers, alas, were not a match for the conductor. Greindl's Pogner was easily the best performance in the opera. Prohaska as Hans Sachs was light of voice compared to most who take the role, but that is not necessarily such a bad thing. Eva sounded downright elderly to be the prize in a contest derived from fairy tales. Magdalena was forgettable (as always.) Then there was the tenor, Max Lorenz, who once had been pretty good. Here, though, he offered an excellent portrayal of a man ardently preparing to toss a caber: "Morgenlicht--umph--leucte im--umph--rO-O-sigen schein--UMPH!" Compared to the David, though, he was Orpheus himself. The foolish, young apprentice sounds about ninety years old, and it seems to take him just about that long to explain the rules of Mastersingers in ACT I. Admittedly, that is a tedious passage at the best of times, but this really is too much. Finally there is poor, sour Beckmesser, here portrayed as even older and more dried up than ususal. It would be nice to hear a baritone portray Sixtus as a viable rival for the hand of Eva, as he, himself, clearly thinks he is. After all, "Beckmesser, kein besser!"
To me, the best part of this performance is the scene toward the end of Act I in which the Mastersingers arrive for the great roll call. For anyone but Wagner, it would be a throw-away scene, something to be excised after a bad first night But here the buildup of the orchestra and the entry of the lesser principals add up to make the Guild of Mastersingers into something a little grander than merely human, just as RW wanted. And every one of those lesser members of the cast sings better than the ostensible stars portraying Walther, David and Beckmesser.