Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Medici Arts
WORKS: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
PERFORMER: Falk Struckmann, Ain Anger, Johan Botha, Adrian Eröd, Ricarda Merbeth, Michael Schade; Vienna SO Choir & Orchestra/Christian Thielemann; dir. Otto Schenk (Vienna, 2008)
CATALOGUE NO: 2072488 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

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This is perhaps the finest recording, either on DVD or CD, of Wagner’s complex masterpiece, of which it seems any production is inevitably flawed.

What is remarkable about this one is that the conducting of Christian Thielemann is so idiomatic and penetrating, if one overlooks a few passages where he lapses into mannerism – he loves super-extended pauses – or becomes briefly turgid. He keeps the whole piece, very close to five hours, moving irresistibly, and he has the Vienna Philharmonic playing magnificently, untiringly, and a superb cast.  

With so many important roles in Meistersinger, recordings are usually let down by the singer of at least one of the major roles. This one has the noblest contemporary Sachs, Falk Struckmann, in top form, and Johan Botha, a man-mountain, as an exceptionally sensitive Walther, and an expressive actor despite his bulk.

The Pogner of Ain Auger is phenomenally fine, and Adrian Eröd’s Beckmesser is outstanding. In Act I, where Wagner sets a committee meeting to sublime music, the individual characterisations, many of them very small roles, are all memorable.

Otto Schenk’s production is as traditional as can be, but is full of vitality, and without a trace of routine. Sticking mainly very closely to Wagner’s stage directions – a revolutionary stroke – and well photographed, it illuminates point after point in the action. 

However, and inevitably, there is one moderately severe reservation: Eva, the heroine of the work, round whom the plot revolves, is played by Ricarda Merbeth, who has a fairly pleasing voice, though hardly of the level of the rest of the cast.

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Worse, she pulls the most horrifying faces when she sings any high or loud note – I had to look away. If you can cope with that, this is the recording of the work to get, in any format. Michael Tanner