'Meistersinger' in English: Good News, Bad News -- Mostly Go
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 08/03/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a much-talked-about live recording, long thought lost, of a BBC broadcast in 1968 of an English-language production of Wagner's 'Die Meistersinger' from the Sadler's Wells Opera (now called the English National Opera). It was conducted by Reginald Goodall who was all but unknown then but who soon became known and much lauded for his conducting of Wagner's operas. It has an all-English cast, all but one of whom were singing their roles for the first time; the exception was Norman Bailey, who had sung Hans Sachs in Germany (in German, of course).
First, the bad news: Sound quality is not the best. There is some tape hiss, occasional poor balances, a good deal of stage noise (my goodness, you can really hear a lot of clumping around in the last act entrance of the apprentices!), and somewhat dodgy stereo separation. Early on Norman Bailey's voice is rather woolly, although it improves and his vocal acting is marvelous. Margaret Curphey's Eva can turn acidulous, but she is terrific in the last act Quintet. There are some cuts -- primarily a verse from David's first act catalog of tones and from Beckmesser's second act song. The orchestral playing is not always as suave as one might hope. And, of course, there will be those who will be put off by this quintessentially German opera being sung in English. And indeed the translation, by Frederick Jameson (with some changes by Norman Feasey and Gordon Kember) has a few thee's and thou's that make it sound a bit old-fashioned. Still it is an effective translation and it sings well.
Any negatives are outweighed by the good things in the recording. Bailey's Sachs is effective -- and he has the best diction of anyone in the cast; he is human, affecting, suitably humorous, gruff, tender or serious as needed. The David of Gregory Dempsey is one the best I've ever heard. Derek Hammond-Stroud plays Beckmesser as a bit of a caricature, but he sings the music rather than sketching it as many Beckmessers do. Alberto Remedios is one of the best Walthers on record. His tone is meltingly lyrical and he is actually able to sing softly when required, unlike some. He is ardent, heroic, and naïve in turn. His Prize Song is magical, aided significantly by Goodall's rapturously paced conducting. Noel Mangin's Pogner is excellent in his long aria. The rest of the mastersingers are at least adequate or, as in the case of David Bowman as Kothner, much better. Ann Robson is a younger-sounding Magdalene and she sings well. Stafford Dean, then quite young, is a marvelous Nightwatchman. The chorus is sterling from their very first notes at the end of the overture to the paean to Sachs that closes the opera.
The real hero of this performance is Goodall. This is a leisurely-paced 'Mastersingers' but there is never a lull or longueur. Rhythms are well-sprung and the quieter or more lyrical moments are breathtaking, as in the Act III prelude or the ecstatic last act Quintet. He can build up real excitement, too, as in the overture and the third act entrance of the apprentices and mastersingers, not to speak of the riot that ends Act II.
The boxed 4CD set is being offered for the price of 3CDs and it includes a complete libretto. This will probably not be anyone's only 'Meistersinger', but it certainly belongs on the shelves of those who love this opera and have other recordings of it.
Memorable live performance in English
Ivor E. Zetler | Sydney Australia | 08/25/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My first experience of a live Wagner opera performance was with this production and featured many of the cast singing in this recording. Sir Charles Mackerras was conducting. I was on a Wagnerian high for the next two days! Years later I was to become personally acquainted with Alberto Remedios; he is alive and well and lives in the same Sydney suburb where I work. He often mentioned the BBC tapes and his efforts to persuade Chandos to release this Meistersinger recording on disc. Well, here is is in all its glory and the wait has certainly been worth while.
Reginald Goodall was a Wagnerian specialist whose Sadler's Wells / English National Opera performances have attained a hallowed status in England. He insisted on copious rehearsal time with his cast and orchestra. His tempi were on the leisurely side but, as evidenced on this recording, the music flows very naturally.
This Meistersinger is a true ensemble performance, with scarcely a weak link in the vocal cast. Norman Bailey was a renowned Hans Sachs in the seventies and eighties; one can hear why when listening to his interpretation in this performance. He has the appropriate gravity, firmness and sensitivity required for the role. Alberto Remedios is a splendid Walther; his voice has a golden, ringing quality and has the essential absence of a wobble. He comes close to equalling Sandor Konya (on the Kubelik recording) who is the finest Walther on disc. Derek Hammond-Stroud is an excellent and relatively straight-laced Beckmesser.
The orchestra, while hardly of world class standard, play above their weight under the inspired direction of Goodall. He, ultimately is the star of the show.
The BBC mono recording is on the dry side but is quite listenable. It adequately conveys the excitement and frisson of this live performance. The fact that the opera is sung in English should not deter the prospective listener; in fact the ability to understand the proceedings can often be an asset.
I strongly recommend this special recording to all lovers of this most wonderful of operas. It joins the Kubelik, Karajan/Dresden, Kempe performances as preferred versions of this opera on CD."
Dag Kyndel | Hölö, Sweden | 06/30/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I began this day with listening to Reginal Goodalls Meistersinger. My day could not have had a better start. This is a radio recording from 1968 but the sound is nothing but outstanding! Clear and brilliant. Sir Reginald's conducting could not be bettered. His handling the score reminds me of Knappertsbusch on one of his better days. All the singers are good or very good. Personally I prefer a stronger Sachs with a darker voice and above all a more dominating personality. David (Gregory Dempsay) sings wonderfully and the heroes among the singers are the Walter (Alberto Remedios) and Eva (Margaret Curphey). Her beautiful voice and innocent character remind me of the young Birgit Nilsson (her Sachs being Sigurd Björling, on Preiser Records)."