This is a so-called traditional production of Meistersinger, recorded live in 2008 at the Vienna State Opera, which for obscure reasons decided to revive Schenk´s 1975 staging of Wagner´s Meistersinger under the label "new production", referring to a socalled "musical reinterpretation" by German conductor Christian Thielemann. We already know Otto Schenk´s Meistersinger from the DVD from the Metropolitan Opera. This Vienna production is not quite as sumptuous, in fact it is rather austere and dusty at times, especially in the first act.
I remember well that in 2008 Thielemann was unanimously praised by the Austrian press for these performances, labelling them the best conducted Meistersinger in Vienna in decades and five hours of pure pleasure - referring mainly to the orchestral performance. I am well acquainted with Thielemann´s mighty way with this score: Light, yet not too light, and with this inherent understanding of Wagnerian phrases, including in Thielemann´s case some very unconventional phrasing slowing the orchestra down at decisive points. Such as the much-debated major pause he always takes between "wach" and "auf" in the 3rd Act, It is still there. Egocentric or courageous? Probably both.
That Christian Thielemann favours traditional productions is no secret and not a problem as such. A traditional production may be as good, or better than a modern. That entirely depends on the individual characterization by the singers. However, too often, traditional sets are combined with a lack of personal direction + a not negligible amount of dust. Which is the case here.
It is understandable that Thielemann likes Johan Botha´s voice as it is both glorious and solid. But.. this is not a CD, and excuse me, the man is simply too heavy and cannot act his way out of a paper bag.
But Ricarda Merberth? Really she is quite disappointing as Eva: Matronly, wobbly and unexquisite, she is the stand-up-and-deliver type of singer. One shouldn´t think Eva would be that hard a part to cast?
She looks rather like the superb Ain Angers mother than his daughter. And with Michaela Selingers feisty Magdalena looking ten years younger and feistier than Eva. Michael Schade as well makes a rather mature, but however well sung David.
Falk Struckmann´s rather metallic voice with a certain lack of warmth may not be to everyones liking, however he is in better shape here than otherwise around that time.
Best is Adrian Eröd as Beckmesser: Funny as well as well sung and the scenes between Beckmesser and Sachs remain among the few infusing some life into this otherwise rather un-dead production.
However, we already know Otto Schens Meistersinger from the Metropolitan Opera released on DVD, with a vastly superior cast. Christian Thielemann´s Meistersinger is worth preserving Otto Schenk´s Vienna State Opera production with the current cast really is not.
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Johan Botha: 2
Ricarda Merberth: 2
Falk Struckmann: 3
Adrian Eröd: 5
Ain Anger: 4
Michael Schade: 3
Otto Schenk´s production: 2
Christian Thielemann: 5
Overall impression: 2