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4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Met broadcast from 1972, 25 Feb 2013
This review is from: Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Metropolitan Opera) (Audio CD)
SOURCE:
Live recording of the January 15, 1972 Saturday afternoon broadcast of New York's Metropolitan Opera..

SOUND:
The original analogue tapes were digitally restored for this Sony issue in 2010 by I-Hua Tseng, Brian Losch and Andreas Meyer; the remastering engineer was Charles Harbutt. The result of their combined work is acceptable mono for those who choose to listen with a bit of goodwill, although there is no doubt that what is on these disks is a live performance with concomitant footfalls, bangs, booms and thumps, not to mention the occasional minor drop-off. Had this recording been made in 1952 rather than 1972, all that could easily be taken in stride by anyone able to embrace the notion of "historic" sound. However, in this case, one is left to to puzzle over what imbecilic Luddite at the Met was responsible for recording in long out-of-date mono in 1972, for Pete's sake!

CAST:
Hans Sachs,* cobbler, poet and philosopher - Theo Adam (bass-baritone)
Walther von Stolzing, a knight with musical aspirations - James King (tenor)
Eva Pogner, daughter of the town goldsmith and prize of a singing contest - Pilar Lorengar (soprano)
Sixtus Beckmesser,* town clerk and marker extraordinaire - Benno Kusche (baritone)
Veit Pogner,* goldsmith - Ezio Flagello (bass)
David, apprentice cobbler and would-be suitor of Magdalena - Loren Driscoll (character tenor)
Magdalena, Eva's nurse - Shirley Love (mozzo-soprano)
Fritz Kothner,* baker - Donald Gramm (baritone)
Kunz Vogelgesang,* furrier - Charles Anthony (tenor)
Konrad Nachtigall,* tinsmith - Robert Goodloe (bass)
Balthasar Zorn,* pewterer - Robert Schmorr (tenor)
Ulrich Eisslinger,* grocer - Rod MacWherter (tenor)
Augustin Moser,* tailor - Gabor Carelli (tenor)
Herrmann Ortel,* soap maker - Russell Christopher (bass)
Hans Schwarz,* stocking weaver - James Morris (bass)
Hans Foltz,* coppersmith - Louis Sgarro (bass)
Nightwatchman - Clifford Harvuot (bass-baritone)

* Member of the Guild of Master Singers

CONDUCTOR: Thomas Schippers with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

FORMAT:
Disk 1 - Act I, 20 tracks; Act II, 1 track. 78:20
Disk 2 - Act II (continued), 12 tracks; Act III, 6 tracks. 77:50
Disk 3 - Act III (continued). 19 tracks. 77:19
Total running time 233:29

DOCUMENTATION:
Bargain issue barebones. Track list providing timings and identifying principal singers. Two page summary of the plot of the opera by act. Photos of Adam, King and Lorengar in character. There is a little note to the effect that the 1972 production was financed by Mrs. John D. Rockerfeller, Jr. (--ah, those were the days.)

COMMENTARY:
The notion of doing a comedic money-maker based on the Master Singers of Renaissance-era Nuremberg bubbled quietly at the back of Richard Wagner's mind for quite a long time. It first appeared as a form of relief shortly after the heavy drama of "Tannhauser," the earliest draft of the libretto being dated July 1845. Events, however, such as the extended period of writing the libretti for "The Ring" and then the laborious composition of "Das Rheingold," and bits of "Die Walkure and "Siegfried" shoved the little comedy aside. By the mid-1850s, though, even the nearly indefatigable Wagner almost ran out of steam. He set aside the gigantic "Ring" and focused first on an airy little ditty called "Tristan und Isolde," then he finally got down to his small-scale comic profit-maker. He began serious work on "Die Meistersinger" in 1861. His eye still sharply on the financial bottom line, he conceived of the Overture as an interim cash cow, first performing it in public in November 1862. By this time, of course, the original concept of a small, lightweight comedy was long dead. "Die Meistersinger" had grown to the elephantine--no, apatosaurian dimensions we now know so well, and in that form it was premiered to great success in 1868.

Producing an opera with the scale and scope of "Die Meistersinger" is a huge and daunting task. I have never encountered a performance that was without some greater or lesser flaw. Overall, I regard this performance as a good, solid piece of journeyman work. In the theater on that Saturday afternoon, I would have applauded loudly and walked out feeling that the price of the ticket had been well-spent.

I would also have departed the Met tallying up the ways in which this wholly acceptable performance had diverged from the "perfect" "Meistersinger" I carry around in my head. Theo Adam is the first problem. He sings well enough and hits all the main points of the comedy-drama, but his Sachs seems to me to be a sketch of Wagner's complex, wise, and no little tortured character--a mere lay figure where someone of near-Shakespearian depth ought to be. James King was as good a version of Heldentenor-light as was to be found in the 1970s. But just listen to the music. Walther von Stolzing is not a heroic tenor, he is a lyric tenor. All right, I'll grant you that he has to be a loud lyric tenor, but his music is unequivocally lyric in nature and should be sung with long-breathed legato phrasing, not the three- and four-syllable Heldentenor barks we have here and with virtually all other Walthers. The Beckmesser, Benno Kusche, is more musical than some comedy-obsessed character baritones who have essayed the role, but just once I'd like to hear a Beckmesser ("kein besser") who just might have an actual chance of winning the hand of the fair Eva with his own song. The younger pair of lovers, David and Magdalena, as almost always, jarringly sound like the oldest members of the cast. Ezio Flagello as Pogner is competent but no more. Based solely on his performance, one would never guess that Pogner can become the star of the opera, as he did when sung by Josef Greindl under the direction of Furtwangler in a wartime broadcast.

After all this nitpicking, I am happy to say that Pilar Lorengar is a welcome discovery as a surprisingly girlish Eva, so very different from the sad, dignified and much put-upon Countess in "The Marriage of Figaro," the role in which I remember her best.

Schippers keeps things moving at a good pace, although he does not extract all the marrow from the bones of the piece as Furtwangler did so unexpectedly with the first appearance of the Master Singers, or with the big choral spectaculars in Act III.

The Met Chorus is generally satisfactory but not as brilliant as some European choruses in other recordings of "Die Meistersinger."

With a total running time of under four hours, it is clear that there are some cuts, as pointed out by previous Amazon reviewers in the US. Speaking for myself, that does not bother me in the slightest, for I hold the notion that a "Meistersinger" running about two-and-a-half hours would be the true comic masterpiece that Wagner originally envisioned..

This is a good recording of Wagner's comedy. While it is not the best recording on the market, it is far from the worst. It's price is attractive and it is a good choice for a second or back-up "Meistersinger" in a collector's audio library.

But it should have been recorded in stereo.

Four stars.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Mar 2013 13:43:17 GMT
Hywel James says:
Terrific review! It covers all the important issues. Thank you.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Mar 2013 08:18:03 GMT
Many thanks.

In my reviews I attempt to answer those questions I would ask, were I to come upon this recording out of the blue. (And speaking as a comprimario tenor myself, I really am interested in who is doing the smaller parts.)

LARRY
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