Richard George Benson
, January 2011
I don’t particularly know what to say about the 1995 Berlin performance. Beckmesser seems to be deliberately played as a Jew (as most modern musicology wants him to be, in defiance of the wishes of most audiences, the instincts of most conductors and performers, and the entirely sensible warnings of most philosophers) and the performance emphasises the political over the personal; which is fine, except that the strength of Meistersinger is primarily the depth of its insight into human relationships.
The conducting is loose, and momentum is sometimes completely lost—most damagingly during Beckmesser’s beautiful and hilarious serenade in Act II, where we seem to be moving at almost half-speed. And the theoretically glorious final scene of Act III is messily staged.
But then I recall the deeply moving and intelligent Sachs of Wolfgang Brendel (for me, this is one of the finest single performances on any Wagner DVD, and it should be studied and emulated), the beautiful and fiery Eva of Eva Johansson, and Gosta Winbergh’s well sung and acted Walther; and I even remember that, while I fiercely dislike the ‘Jewish’ portrayal of Beckmesser (not being a musicologist myself, and finding the arguments of Millington et al. to be groundless and idiotic), I remember that Eike Wilm Schulte still sings and acts better than most of his peers in the role.
All in all, I tend to think that this Berlin DVD is, in many ways, the obvious first choice, but its problems are such that I could not recommend it to a beginner, and I feel that it must be engaged with critically.