For a long while it was a close tie between the 1984 Bayreuth and 2001 Met performances, with the 1988 Australian and 1995 Deutsch Oper productions just as impressive. Then came last night when I saw a production that could take the crown as the best Meistersinger on DVD, this one. There are some cuts, such as David's instruction scene, but they aren't enough to bring down everything else about the performance. Visually it is very traditional, care and thought has gone into the sets and costumes and it shows, I did like seeing authentic tools and leather during Sachs' Fliedermonolog. The Pegnitz River set is on the generic side, but the staging is so delightful one can overlook. The musical values are even better. The picture quality is blurry occasionally, but is more than made up by the good sound and the quite sophisticated camera work.
The orchestral playing is full of lushness and power, the huge chorus are great especially in the uplifting finale and I liked the brisk tempos of Leopold Ludwig even in the Overture. The performances are of a very high standard, some even are among my favourites in their respective roles. In particular Giorgio Tozzi, whose Hans Sachs is just outstanding. His singing is dark, controlled and always lovely to listen to, and he is very warm, witty and completive complete with some simple yet inspired gestures. Toni Blackenheim masters Beckmesser's challenging vocal line, and also succeeds in giving a wonderfully prissy and never annoying characterisation of a potentially problematic role. I was most surprised by Richard Cassily, I had heard him a couple of times before and didn't care for him much, but while rather stand-and-sing quality dramatically his singing here as Walther is the best he has ever sounded, rich and warm rather than the nasally quality heard in the 1982 Met Tannhauser.
Arlene Saunders is a winsome and innocent Eva,though her cross-eyed facial expression when Beckmesser is making a fool of himself in Act 3 is priceless, with a voice that soars in the Quintet(still for me the most beautiful piece Wagner ever wrote). Ursula Boese is a knowing and richly-voiced Magdalene, with her comic byplay with Gerhard Unger's David really sparkling. Unger is simply great as David, you can tell from his twenty-five years or so of owning the role that he is experienced, and he still has the earnestness and charming boyishness that you'd associate with David. As well as the comic byplay his love for Magdalene is displayed in a sincere and quite affecting manner. Enst Wieman is a suitably noble Pogner.
Overall, has one or two small faults, but actually overall this is my favourite Meistersinger on DVD. A must-watch if you are a fan of the opera(I certainly am). 10/10 Bethany Cox
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