Three years ago I raved about the qualities of a DVD of 'Meistersinger' starring Wolfgang Brendel as Sachs. I thought it was magnificent. But the present DVD -- recorded in 1970 -- trumps that one; it is better musically and much better dramatically. In fact, this is the most consistently dramatically engaging performance I've ever seen of this opera either onstage or video recording (and I've seen most of the videos and a number of staged productions here and in Europe). Indeed, I'm tempted to say it is the most engaging video production of ANY opera I've seen. Much of the credit goes to the Sachs of Giorgio Tozzi. My surprise was that I had never known he ever sang the role. He is not only the most engaging, human, natural and vocally magnificent Sachs I've ever encountered, he is surrounded by a cast who are both musically and dramatically first-rate. Much of the credit must go to the director for television, Joachim Hess, who took the stage production of the Hamburg Opera and recast it for a television studio recording. The advantage of a studio recording is that we not only get lots of closeups, which of course make the subtleties of the various portrayals all the more lifelike, but there is also sophisticated camera movement, important for a production that features so large a cast and their individual characterizations. I do wish we could be a little clearer about which master was which, but no matter: anyone knowing the opera well would immediately be able to tell Hermann Ortel, say, from Balthasar Zorn. And for others that probably doesn't matter all that much. One does notice that there are no women singers amongst the apprentices (as called for by Wagner's score); they are replaced onstage by young men no doubt for a more lifelike effect.Read more ›
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful, Traditional PerformanceMarch 8 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
Wagner would approve of this 20th century example of gesamtkunstwerk - fusion of the arts. The one thing he had been missing in his panoply was the advantage of modern recording technology and cinematography. Here, though, Rolf Liebermann acts on Wagner's behalf. In this production the camera enhances this Meistersinger, functioning as a creative element, rather than just recording a staged performance. The camera brings us right into the lively activity of this enjoyable production from the Hamburg State Opera.
This lovely, traditional performance of Meistersinger is unexpectedly fine in many ways. Georgio Tozzi is outstanding as Hans Sachs, which he called his "proudest professional appearance", and watching him in this Hamburg film, one can see why. His Italianate Sachs is handsome, warm, witty and most importantly - quite beautifully sung. In fact, Tozzi's ebullient Sachs is as winning and well-sung as that of any Bayreuth sacred cow of the golden era of Wagnerian singing. What a surprise, and what a pleasure.
Not all the voices are flawless, but none are bad or painful to listen to, which can often occur in Wagner. In fact, most are quite good. Richard Cassilly does a perfectly fine job as Walther, and although his acting is a bit on the wooden side, we're grateful that he sings his part without strain or crudeness. Frankly, this is the best I've ever heard him sound. He's not my favorite heldentenor (although he's brilliant in the Hamburg Fidelio); he comes through for us here. He's a very large man and he mostly stands and sings with few expressions or gestures. But that's okay because everyone else is so animated in this Nürnberg that we can overlook Walther's (or is it Cassilly's?) self conscious and shy behavior.
Cutting to the chase, the quintet is beautifully sung. Arlene Saunders carries the line without faltering, and the other members of the cast join in and produce a glorious, moving conclusion to the emotional scene in which Sachs, once and for all relinquishes the nubile Eva to Walther.
As an ensemble piece, this Meistersinger comes together beautifully. This filmed production never loses its dignity. There's none of the slapstick or crude humor of many stage productions of Meistersinger. Its funny but never silly.
All of the characterizations are compelling. The Eva of Arlene Saunders is well acted and beautifully sung. She's an attractive woman with a beautiful voice and excellent dramatic skills. Toni Blankenheim, while not exactly a bel canto Beckmesser, is never hateful or ridiculous and his singing never sinks to the level of undignified cackling. Gerhard Unger is a famous David, and it's nice to see his amorous attachment to Magdelene performed with affection and sincerity.
Meistersinger is a very long piece with some uncomfortable and dark moments. Sach's physical punishment of David and his lengthy - and prescient - extolling of German art at the end make for some unappealing aspects of this opera, but for the most part it's an immortal work of great beauty. A quite lengthy opera, but it hangs together here and never gets lost in the frequent longueurs of other performances.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
The Best 'Meistersinger' I've Ever SeenMarch 11 2007
J Scott Morrison
- Published on Amazon.com
Three years ago I raved about the qualities of a DVD of 'Meistersinger' starring Wolfgang Brendel as Sachs. I thought it was magnificent. But the present DVD -- recorded in 1970 -- trumps that one; it is better musically and much better dramatically. In fact, this is the most consistently dramatically engaging performance I've ever seen of this opera either onstage or video recording (and I've seen most of the videos and a number of staged productions here and in Europe). Indeed, I'm tempted to say it is the most engaging video production of ANY opera I've seen. Much of the credit goes to the Sachs of Giorgio Tozzi. My surprise was that I had never known he ever sang the role. He is not only the most engaging, human, natural and vocally magnificent Sachs I've ever encountered, he is surrounded by a cast who are both musically and dramatically first-rate. Much of the credit must go to the director for television, Joachim Hess, who took the stage production of the Hamburg Opera and recast it for a television studio recording. The advantage of a studio recording is that we not only get lots of closeups, which of course make the subtleties of the various portrayals all the more lifelike, but there is also sophisticated camera movement, important for a production that features so large a cast and their individual characterizations. I do wish we could be a little clearer about which master was which, but no matter: anyone knowing the opera well would immediately be able to tell Hermann Ortel, say, from Balthasar Zorn. And for others that probably doesn't matter all that much. One does notice that there are no women singers amongst the apprentices (as called for by Wagner's score); they are replaced onstage by young men no doubt for a more lifelike effect.
There are some niggling technical limitations. This was one of the first full-length television opera productions in color. Consequently, the constraints inherent in camera equipment of the time -- only a few years after color TV became available -- causes some quick camera movements to be just a bit blurry. Color, though, is true. Sound is mono but good nonetheless. The playing of the Hamburg Philharmonic under Leopold Ludwig, the Hamburg Opera's longtime music director, is marvelous. The sound mix tends to place the voices in an aural spotlight, but the so-important orchestral score is never lost in the background.
The cast could hardly be bettered for its time. Almost all the main singers were company members of the Hamburg Opera. The only exceptions were Richard Cassilly, a then-much-admired American heldentenor, and Tozzi, another American, long a stalwart of the Metropolitan (and the voice for Rossano Brazzi in the movie of 'South Pacific'). Cassilly is not much of an actor, but his part really just calls for him to stand and sing, and that he does with a beautifully controlled tenor voice that rides over the orchestral sound in such set-pieces as the Prize Song ('Morgenlicht leuchtend'). Arlene Saunders, an American lyrical soprano then a member of the Hamburg company, is a beautiful woman, perhaps no longer a teenager but capable of conveying both the innocence and the romantic longings of Eva. In her scenes with Sachs, she is charming and kind; there is real sexual tension in the scene where she and Sachs discuss his possible entry into the song contest in an effort to win her hand. One particularly funny spot is her facial expression (including crossed eyes) when Beckmesser is making a fool of himself during the singing contest in Act III. Her soprano shines in the Quintet ('Selig wie die Sonne'). Ursula Boese makes a marvelous, rich-voiced Magdalene, more a woman of spirit than a virago. She and David make the most of their comic byplay. Special mention must be made of tenor Gerhard Unger who virtually owned the role of David for twenty-five years and whose portrayal is full of boyish charm and earnestness, not to speak of the ideal vocal qualities called for in the role. This production makes the usual cuts in Wagner's perhaps overlong (for some) opera and one of the victims is a cut in David's delicious first act instruction for Walther of the Master's musical 'tones.' It is, truth be told, usually cut, but I missed hearing it. (I am delighted that in the current Met production it is kept in and Matthew Polenzani as David makes the most of it.) Toni Blankenheim makes a human yet laughable Beckmesser. He sings the role, rather than bawling it as some do. Outstanding among the masters is the black-voiced Ernst Wiemann as Eva's father, Veit Pogner. His first act aria in which he pledges his daughter's hand to the winner of the Song Contest is moving.
Visually this is a traditional production; the extreme care that has been taken to make the sets and costumes seem real is laudable. Everywhere one looks, in say Sachs's workshop, one sees verisimilitude. This even includes, in Sachs's Fliedermonolog, a pretty convincing portrayal of cobbler Sachs working on a pair of shoes with authentic appearing tools and leather. Only in the third act do we have a more generic set depicting the bank of the Pegnitz River, but this is because the stage is filled with masters, apprentices and townspeople, as well as the principal singers. That said, the procession of the apprentices and masters is filled with little details that delight.
One final word about the portrayal of Sachs by Giorgio Tozzi. Not only does he sing musically and dramatically aptly, his acting is, in a word, sensational. He is a handsome strongly-built, broad-shouldered man with an imposingly leonine head, twinkling eyes, mobile and responsive facial expressions, natural and yet complex movements, including little bits of stage business that are inspired -- a look here, a gesture there -- and all the while his dark commanding bass voice is rolling out in unending supply. Musically this is one of the great portrayals of Sachs. Dramatically it is nonpareil.
I urge anyone who loves this work to consider getting this DVD. In spite of its minor technical limitations, it is a revelation.
TT=240 mins (2DVDs); Sound: mono; Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian; Format 4:3; Region 0 (worldwide)
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Meistersinger - 'Made for TV'Dec 30 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
Let me start by saying that I disgree with the other reviewers. This is by no means the best Meistersinger on DVD: I'd rate the Bayreuth, Met and Deutsch Oper Berlin performances well above it.
Some aspects of this Made-for-TV, studio performance are good - the singing is impeccable: Tozzi's Sachs, Cassily's Walter and Blankenheim's Beckmesser are particularly worth of mention. But then, in a studio environment, where an aria can be repeated until it's perfect, where the performers can rest between scenes, where bad performances can be overdubbed, it's hard to see how this could be otherwise.
So why only three stars?
Let's start with the running time. I should have smelled a rat when I saw that the whole opera runs for exactly 240 minutes (the norm is around 270). This running time has been achieved by a combination of a break-neck tempo, and some radical and inexcusable cuts.
Fortunately, the tempo sorts itself out by Act 3, but the pace through the overture and the first two acts is outrageously fast. The effect of all this scurrying about is to gloss over much of the emotional nuances of the score. Add to this the awkward mugging in the closeups, particularly in Act 1, and the effect comes closer to Punch and Judy than Richard Wagner.
As for the cuts, there are at least two: As another reviewer has remarked, David's instruction scene has been completely removed. This is a very funny scene, and a key plot element, since it amusingly illustrates the Meistersingers' anal-retentive approach to music. In act 3, the Girls from Furth fail to make an appearance; presumably their boat is still floating down the Pegnitz. Some splendid dance music goes away as a result.
If this unseemly haste had been for artistic reasons, it might have been forgivable, but I suspect that the opera was rushed and shortened to fit neatly into a four-hour TV time-slot.
The sets are minimalist and drab; odd for a studio production. I was amused by the spherical elder tree in Act 2, clearly 'inspired' by Wieland's 1956 production. Wieland's concept, like it or not, was original. In this production, it just looked as if someone was trying to save money.
The sound is mono, and adequate. It provokes the usual mental blurring caused by lack of positional information - overpowering the singers once in a while, but it's not a distraction.
The production values are definitely a bit rough around the edges. The transitions between sessions are noticeable in a few cases; tempi change abruptly, and in one case a whole bar seemed to be missing. The hand-held camera work in the crowd scenes, particularly in act 3, is distracting at best. It didn't help that the lighting was at operating-theatre level throughout. This may be a technology limitation, though - early colour cameras didn't work too well in low lighting conditions.
If you already have the three good productions of Meistersinger, this recording might be an amusing addition to your collection. If you can afford only one, go for the Bayreuth or Met stage productions - not this 'TV Special'.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A great MeistersingerOct. 2 2007
Robert T. Martin
- Published on Amazon.com
Tozzi is glorious. His Sachs is a wise and profoundly good natured human being. The other singers are also wonderful particularly the Eva of Arlene Saunders and Ernst Wieman's Pogner. However, this performance achieves greatness in large part because of the contribution of conductor Leopold Ludwig. His pacing is perfect. One is left with the impression that the music follows an unbroken line-a symphony with words; it's a performance that possesses that rare quality of "swing." The visuals and mono sound quality are very fine. This is one of the great recorded performances of this opera and it's a must have for any Meistersinger fan.
As other reviewers have noted there are substantial cuts in this performance, so it should not be considered a first choice. Nevertheless it's a real find for anyone who already knows and loves this opera.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Meister for die MeistersingerJuly 18 2008
John P. Mckelvey
- Published on Amazon.com
This video was filmed in 1970 in excellent sharp focus and rich color, though slightly--but not fundamentally-- limited by monauaral sound. The audio is nevertheless rich in detail, distortionless, well-equalized and more than satisfactory in regard to dynamic range.
Leopold Ludwig is the real hero of this story. Due primarily to his relatively sparse discography, however, he is now not very well known. Nevertheless he was Music Director at the Hamburg State Opera for 20 years, 1951-1971. In this position his predecessors included Gustav Mahler, Karl Muck, Otto Klemperer, Karl Böhm, Eugen Jochum, and Joseph Keilberth. His style can be observed as he conducts the prelude. It is not very flamboyant, merely keeping time and the rhetorical flow with wide, sweeping gestures. His face is impassive and he does not rely much on eye contact. Nevertheless the orchestral work is splendid, with luscious string playing and smooth golden sound from the great brass section. Clearly, everything has been covered in detail in rehearsal and needs only to be kept flowing in the performance. This fellow is really good, and what he's best at is Wagner. You'll not hear his equal on records, except perhaps by the audio of Act III recorded in Dresden by Karl Böhm in 1938.
Giorgio Tozzi is surely not the first singer that comes to mind for Hans Sachs. Indeed, he would probably be closer to the last. Nevertheless, his timbre is right for the role, his German is unexpectedly good, and his delivery is just fine. Moreover, as dolled up for the role, his appearance is first-class and his acting is near-perfect. His singing is in fact hard to beat. Arlene Saunders as Eva presents a youthful good-looking appearance, seconded effectively by Ursula Boese as Magdalene. Richard Cassily sports a rather mature appearance as Walther, but his singing is smooth, youthful-sounding, and altogether impressive. Toni Blankenheim as Beckmesser is nastily appropriate, and Gerhard Unger is highy effective as David. The rest of the cast is quite satisfactory and the huge chorus is great. It is all kept in motion without undue hurry by Leopold Ludwig, the traditional sets are splendid, and the end result is a DVD that except for fine mono sound is hard to beat.
OK, then why only four stars? Well, apparently this performance was designed fo a TV slot of exactly 240 minute length, in which a 250-minute opera had to be squeezed. Therefore, there is a substantial cut in the second scene of Act III, a cut that wipes the familiar Dance of Apprencitices, along with some of its surroundings, right off the map! It is really inexcusable artistically, particularly in a performance otherwise as perfect as this one. Price? One Star. But let's hear three for the real hero of the show, Leopold Ludwig.