This recording of a live performance of MEISTERSINGER from Bayreuth 1957 definitely merits five stars. For those of you who don't already know this, Gustav Neidlinger (PeaceBeUponHim) was the undisputed master of Wagner's "howling-and-spitting" villain roles, Alberich and Klingsor, from the early 1950s until the mid 1970s. He sang with unmatched sulfur, cannon-ball density, huge volume, dark tone, and powerful dramatic interpretation. He sang more spontaneously and from-the-gut than most singers. He was the first of his generation to sing these roles with musical line and connected legato, rather than as a series of isolated shouts, grunts, and bellowings. He was typecast for these villainous roles as soon as he set foot on the stage, and almost never performed as a good-guy.
Ostensibly Richard Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg tells a humorous tale about artistically inclined craftsmen. Goldsmith Veit Pogner promises his daughter Eva's hand in marriage to the winner of a song contest, to which three men are potentially eligible. But upon closer inspection, what is at first glance a harmless farce in a middle-class setting emerges as a profound social analysis. Wagner uses his protagonists to show how a community deals with tradition and those who break with it and just how much innovation and deviation from the norm it can tolerate - as well as to examine what value society places, and should place, on art. "'Meistersinger' that's on an entirely new Wagnerian scale…it is full of smart ideas and moments of effective theater." (The Washington Post)
Staged and directed by Richard Wagner's grandson Wolfgang at the Bayreuther Festspiele in 1984, this production of Wagner's only comedy dispenses with the common cliches to reveal the humanity of each character. Here, Beckmesser is no longer a foolish caricature but a cultivated intellectual; Stolzing emerges as a thoughtful individual rather than aggressive aristocret; and Hans Sachs sheds his solemn patriarchal veneer to become a likeable middle-aged man. “Hermann Prey´s interpretation of Beckmesser as a cultivated intellectual is a triumph of dramatic and vocal artistry: a stunning performance . . . Brilliant . . . Bernd Weikl as Sachs – an almost unique combination of musical refinement and expressive power.” (Abendzeitung, Munich)
English-speaking audiences have always found Die Meistersinger to be a life-enhancing celebration of wisdom, art and song. So it proves in David McVicar's production – the first at Glyndebourne – which is updated to the early-19th century of Wagner's childhood. At the centre of a true ensemble cast is Gerald Finley, a 'gleamingly sung', 'eminently believable' Sachs (The Independent on Sunday), supported by the dynamic conducting of Vladimir Jurowski which, like McVicar's production, uses Glyndebourne's special intimacy to bring sharp focus to bear on the subtlety of Wagner's musical and dramatic counterpoint.
This Meistersinger, Otto Schenk’s Metropolitan Opera production that premiered in 1993, is an old friend. I’ve seen it four times over the past decade and hope that the Met’s powers-that-be choose to keep it around for a lot longer. It’s a visual feast—warmly lit like an old master painting, the sets and costumes sumptuously detailed… If you are building a Wagner video collection, this one’s a must. Andrew Quint, FANFARE
When these discs were originally released singly in the early '80s, they were not only marvelous recordings of the purely orchestral music from Wagner's operas, they announced the arrival of a marvelous new conductor. At the time, Klaus Tennstedt was known only as the conductor of several astonishingly good recordings of Mahler's symphonies, but his abilities in the standard repertoire were as yet unknown. But with these two discs of recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic, Tennstedt proved that his Mahler was no accident. Indeed, so strong, so central, and so overwhelmingly compelling are his Wagner recordings that his Mahler recordings seem almost accidental. In the disc of excerpts from the Ring operas, Tennstedt is at once immensely dramatic, ecstatically lyrical, and profoundly musical. In the disc of preludes and overtures from Tannhäuser, Rienzi, Lohengrin, and Meistersinger, Tennstedt is at once intensely concentrated, widely expansive, and deeply human. Aided by the super-virtuoso playing of the Berlin Philharmonic and the stupendous impact of EMI's early digital, Tennstedt's Wagner was as fine or finer than any of his contemporaries and nearly in the same league as his predecessors.
Hardly anybody will dispute that Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) was one of the most remarkable conductors of the last century. During his Budapest guest performances between the two World Wars he had already been given an enthusiastic reception by the audience and the musical profession alike. Not only his interpretation of the Viennese classical and romantic repertoire met with recognition but that of modern Hungarian music as well. For example, when conducting the premiere of Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto at the head of the Budapest Concert Orchestra Bartok, who was usually grudging of praise, declared that he could not imagine a more consummate performance of the orchestral part. Klemperer lived and worked in Hungary between 1947 and 1950 without a break, conducting the orchestra of the Opera in the first place and appearing on stage in concerts with symphonic orchestras. His interpretations of Bach’s and Wagner’s works on the present CD date from this period.