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William R. Braun
Opera News, March 2010

After all these years, there is still nothing like a performance of Die Meistersinger to bring together everybody who works in an opera house, including the ushers and the people who run the snack bar. (Since the prompter is audible in this release, let us in the community spirit commend a difficult job well done.) It doesn't matter if the show is a revival. This production, in fact, had passed its thirtieth birthday by the time of this particular performance, making it older than some of the people onstage.

Presumably the conducting of Christian Thielemann was the reason for documenting Otto Schenk's 1975 Vienna State Opera mounting as it was played in January 2008, and Thielemann lives up to the high expectations. He happens to be a virtuoso conductor, as is evident from the two accelerandos during Beckmesser's pantomime in the workshop scene. But it is his grasp of this entire scene, showing the way Wagner uses it to recapitulate the drama thus far, that makes Thielemann an ideal Wagnerian. He also keeps track of the three large spans of Walther's first attempt at a prize song in Act I despite the interruptions.

Thielemann finds a wealth of character in the little string figures that keep undermining Beckmesser's serenade in Act II, making us hear as never before how they transform themselves when he later sings in the competition. It's a cliché to say that Wagner's music is the art of transition. But the way Thielemann moves through each change of scene in Act I, highlighting what stays and what evolves, and the way he casually breaks out of the Act III prelude, giving us the same experience that Sachs has as he starts to awaken, shows that it's true.

Two of the singers give important performances. Just about every note of Adrian Eröd's Beckmesser is fully sung, which must be a record. He has worked hard to understand how the vocal figuration in the serenade may seem odd to us but means something to the character. There is not a hint of intentional comedy in the performance, which mercifully leaves the comedy to Wagner. And he's a young, tall, rail-thin and handsome man, making him a plausible suitor for Eva. Johan Botha's Walther is pure gold. He's confident enough to start each strophe of his song piano in the workshop, then he sings his heart out in the competition. He overplays Walther's ardor in Act I, but when have we ever had to chide a heldentenor for overacting?...Schenk's production is notable for the way it mostly adheres to Wagner's instructions, down to the moment for curtain-rise in each act. His two inspirations - having Beckmesser return, dragging his broken lute, doubled over, to blow a kiss at Eva's window at the end of Act II, and having Sachs open his windows to the morning sun at the climax of the "Wahn" monologue - neither add to nor detract from what Wagner wanted. The song contest is held in a tent-like structure, which diminishes it. There's not much poetry in the designs, at least as lit here. The subtleties and double entendres of the libretto are a supreme challenge for the person who does the subtitles; the results here are as good as can be imagined.

Given Thielemann's conducting of the uncut score, the fine choral singing and the lack of deal-breakers in the cast, this DVD might be a prime recommendation for the opera.

Mike Ashman
Gramophone, January 2010

Let’s cut to the chase: a new Meistersinger conducted by Christian Thielemann with a carefully selected cast, and the Vienna Philharmonic in the pit, is an event. A film credited “after the original stage production by Otto Schenk”, in which apprentices, chorus and supers (and sometimes even soloists) are blocked so that they all face front and watch maestro all the time, is certainly not an event. You may only enjoy watching this release if you think opera on DVD should be a moving picture gallery, or that Wagner’s Nuremberg—let alone “real” Nuremberg—was a clean, well-lit place, with seating neatly angled towards downstage-centre and clean off-the-peg clothes.

But the musical side of the issue—and shouldn’t this really have been a CD?—has exceptional moments. The cameras briefly catch Thielemann thanking his musicians after they’ve just achieved an Act 2 which for wit, rhythm and fluency recalls a previous generation of the VPO working with Toscanini. Try Struckmann’s delivery, and Thielemann’s accompaniment, of' “Jerum, jerum” for its narcotically exciting give-and-take between pit and stage. Elsewhere the conductor’s intentional leaning on pauses and slowing-ups—the “commas” around “Wach’ auf”, or the endless instrumental coda to Walther’s Prize Song—carry the different tradition of Hans Knappertsbusch, an underrated conductor of this work.

There are no old battleaxes in a casting that looks towards younger-than-usual appearances and voices in Selinger’s Magdalene (more youthful than her mistress), Anger’s thoughtful, worried Pogner—stars in the making, these two—and Adrian Eröd’s hugely camp town clerk. Struckmann also is no old-man Sachs. His view of the role—in this “production” all the singers seem to have brought their own—is suave, urbane and, in moments of impatience, quite vicious. Ricarda Merbeth’s fabulous security and technique serve Eva well in both cute and heroic moments.

Parterre Box, November 2009

There are several reasons to purchase the new DVD of Die Meistersinger from Vienna, but the main one is Christian Thielemann. This production will most likely come to be known as “Thielemann’s Meistersinger,” because his sense of the overall architecture of the work is, pardon the pun, masterful. You sense this in the Prelude to Act I in the manner in which he pulls back and slows down the orchestra during the final moments to ensure the climax will be overwhelming when the big C major chord finally sounds. The orchestra playing is exceptional throughout with special mention to the winds and the brass. Thielemann conducts a Meistersinger that has a lot of heart. At the end of the performance, you feel as though you have grown by the experience.

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4:17:28 AM, 9 October 2015
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