Wagner: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (in English)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (in English)
PERFORMER: Norman Bailey, Noel Mangin, David Kane, Julian Moyle, Derek Hammond-Stroud, David Bowman, John Brecknock, Gregory Dempsey, Margaret Curphey, Ann Robson; Sadler’s Wells Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Reginald Goodall


A long-cherished hope fulfilled for Wagnerians – both British and worldwide. This Mastersingers, staged at Sadler’s Wells in 1968, opened a new era in British opera, cocking a snook at mighty Covent Garden with a home-grown cast and a conductor they’d rejected. It heralded Sadler’s Wells’s evolution into the international-class English National Opera, launched the British stars who made possible Goodall’s legendary Ring, and made Wagner accessible to a whole new generation. But where the Ring was commercially recorded, Mastersingers survived only in ‘privately’ taped BBC broadcasts. Even with BBC agreement Chandos had a frantic internet search for restorable copies. The result was unquestionably worth it. Let’s not raise undue hopes; restorers have worked wonders with the sound quality, which is in stereo, but still below 1960s standards. And there are grievous cuts, imposed in early performances to let Sadler’s Wells (noisy) audiences get home – noticeably in David’s tone-catalogue and Sachs’s and Beckmesser’s Act II songs and exchanges. That said, it’s still eminently listenable, capturing the musical and spiritual glow of Goodall’s orchestra and voices, masterfully embodying the comedy’s entwining pain and laughter. As always, Goodall’s fabled slowness is offset by his sure pacing, and enlivened by the added intimacy and wit of the English dialogue (Frederick Jameson’s translation, lightly updated). Norman Bailey’s rich-toned Sachs, incisively clear of diction, already displays both the humane gravitas and the impish streak that made this his signature role; his Act III is a triumph. Derek Hammond-Stroud makes Beckmesser’s small-minded nastiness so funny it’s easy to miss how beautifully he sings. Alberto Remedios is the most convincingly youthful, lyrical poet-knight I’ve heard, Margaret Curphey a radiant Eva. Gregory Dempsey’s David, Ann Robson’s Magdalene and Noel Mangin’s magnificent‑voiced Pogner head the characterful crew of Masters, apprentices and Nurembergers, with Stafford Dean’s Nightwatchman on the verge of stardom. Kempe (on EMI) and Kubelík (Arts Music) remain mainstream benchmarks, but this is not only something very special, but (for Anglophones) strikingly accessible. Pure gold! Michael Scott Rohan