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Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Engl.) Box-Set
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For the first time ever, the legendary centenary production of Wagner's The Mastersingers, conducted by Reginald Goodall is released as a 4-CD set on Chandos Opera in English. Broadcast live on the BBC from Sadler's Wells Theatre on 10 February 1968 Goodall conducted a cast of such luminaries as Alberto Remedios, Norman Bailey, Derek Hammond-Stroud, Gregory Dempsey, Margaret Curphey and Ann Robson. Following the live broadcast the recording sadly disappeared into the archives and has since become one of the most talked about lost performances. Music-lovers have regularly contacted Chandos requesting its release on Opera in English and it is one that Sir Peter Moores was determined to make happen. It even led to an appeal for indivduals recordings of the broadcast! This 4-CD set has subsequently been re-mastered from a BBC Radio live broadcast and is released at the price of 3 CDs. The sound quality reflects the fact it is a 1968 live recording and some deterioration is evident although this does not detract from the fantastic performance value. A popular comic opera The Mastersingers is an ensemble opera in a sense which Wagner s other operas are not. Yet, despite its comic opera standing, it is in fact a deeply spiritual work. Wagner wrote, it is impossible that you should not have sensed, under the opera's quaint superficies of popular humour, the profound melancholy, the lament, the cry of distress of poetry in chains, and its reincarnation, its new birth, its irresistible magic power achieving mastery over the common and the base.
The resounding success of Reginald Goodall's Mastersingers led to his conducting an 'English' Ring at the London Coliseum in the 1970s. That Ring started me recording opera in English so I am thrilled that we have been able to add The Mastersingers to our Opera in English catalogue - alongside Goodall's Ring. --Sir Peter Moores
Oder ernsthafter - Wagner und Englisch geht das? Wir durften uns ja mit vielem erquicken, von Schubert remixed bis Mahler garantiert vibrato und gefühlsbefreit. Aber das kann doch nicht gehen. Nein?
Und wie das geht! Denn es klingt. Wer sich ein wenig vom derzeit hippen Speedrun bei Wagner erholen will, der findet hier allemal Labsal. Ein Dokument aus Zeiten, die auch im vereinigten Königreich vorbei sind. Hier wird die Langsamkeit Ereigniss, wie sonst vieleicht nur bei Celi, dem Zenmeister. Für den politisch korrekten Gefühlsinvaliden ist das nichts, aber wer dem Alten Bayreuthrer Hexenmeister jenseits großer Namen einmal wieder verfallen will, ist hier richtig. Im Englischen Original, auch wenn das gelogen ist. Ach, und singen konnte man auch, im Land of Hope And Glory and of the Chöre. Fast ganz ohne Starnamen die Solisten und dennoch so anhörenswert und erst der Chor, aber das konnten wir ahnen.
Auf diesem Niveau können Toskanajanska und Der fliegende Engländer kommen. Lieber heute als Morgen.
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I was already familiar with Gregory Dempsey's exemplary Mime in Goodall's English "Siegfried" but was still unprepared for the success he makes of David the apprentice, who is frankly often a real bore. Here Dempsey not only makes him sympathetic and interesting through his vivid characterisation, he also gives us much singing which is lovely as singing per se; he has a bright, clear, unforced tenor with ringing top notes - a voice which both matches contrasts ideally with Remedios's famous heroic timbre. All the male voices here are exemplary in their roles. Noel Mangin's beautifully fruity bass is perfect for Pogner; a previous reviewer rightly describes it as "old-fashioned", meaning it, I trust, as a compliment. Derek Hammond-Stroud's light baritone Beckmesser is amusingly inflected but unexaggerated and invariably sung rather than barked. Remedios and Dempsey I have already praised; both have never since been bettered, even if Ben Heppner has been Remedios's equal and certain of their predecessors might have excelled them. I have always loved Norman Bailey's grainy, resonant bass-baritone; already experienced in singing the role in German, he seems utterly relaxed and apt singing in English as a genial, avuncular Sachs, brimful of old-fashioned wisdom and common sense. Stafford Dean is ideal as the Nightwatchman.
About the two ladies I am slightly less enthusiastic; Margaret Curphey is a little shrill and Ann Robson a tad wobbly. Neither is blessed with a major voice but they certainly do not let the side down. The chorus are lusty, in tune and very characterful, the orchestra remarkably at ease.
The miracle is Goodall's conducting. There is no hint of the extreme slowness for which he is (in)famous; in fact, I have never heard this opera unfold with such lightness, flexibility and spring; no longueurs, no dragging, just a perfect realisation of the Gesamtkunstwerk as Wagner would have dreamed of it - despite this most patriotic of his operas being sung in English. (Though Wagner would in any case most certainly have approved of its being sung in translation; he was clear about the importance of the text.) Another reviewer wonders why Wagner works so well in English compared with Verdi; obviously the rhythms and vocabulary of English and German are more similar given their common Anglo-Saxon roots and that is particularly evident in this very workable translation.
Of course, the biggest test in the whole opera is the sublime quintet - and here, at a gentle, flowing andante it really lifts off in a way that not every performance can manage. Its poise and serenity represent a complete vindication of Goodall's masterful way with the score and elicits the only occasion on which the audience breaks into spontaneous applause.
Being in English and in mediocre sound with stage noises, this might not perhaps be your only recording of this joyous, humane work but it remains a valuable and immensely enjoyable supplement; I would as soon listen to it as almost any other version.
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.