American Record Guide
, December 2008
Wolfgang Wagner’s 1999 Meistersinger is streamlined and uncluttered. The stage has few props, and the backgrounds are just realistic enough to establish time and place. Costumes are clean and colorful, though still persuasively medieval. Only Sachs’s workshop, a stark white box set in the center of the stage, is truly disappointing.
The performance is in the fair-to-good category, nothing incompetent or inoffensive but nothing really special either. Holl, more bass than baritone, has a gray, slightly throttled voice. He has to reach for his highest notes, and he does little with the words other than sing them carefully. At least he looks good, but he’s outsung by Schmidt’s Beckmesser, freer on top and clearer in diction, and Hölle’s sonorous Pogner. Seiffert is not a photogenic Walther, but he maintains a steady, ringing line without the wobble that has lately afflicted his voice. Wottrich’s handsome David sounds like a Stolzing in the making. The ladies look lovely. Birgitta Svenden is an adorable Magdalene, and Emily Magee has no trouble filling out Eva’s soaring phrases, though her voice is not particularly beautiful or individual.
Barenboim’s grand but softly articulated Prelude sets the tone for the whole performance. He favors big, well-blended sounds, and he loves the score’s splashy moments, from Pogner’s pompous pronouncements to the dances and choruses of Act 3. He chooses sensible tempos, and he never slights the beauty of the music. The magic comes through, but I still wished for better endowed singers.
This was recorded in the Festspielhaus June 21-30, 1999, probably at rehearsals. The actual Bayreuth Festival begins later in the summer, so there was probably no audience, which may explain why the voices have a bit of an edge. The sound is still excellent, and so is the camera work.