Meistersinger. Director: Wolfgang Wagner. Bayreuth 1999. Cast: Robert Holl (Sachs), Emily Magee (Eva), Peter Seiffert (Walther), Andreas Schmidt (Beckmesser). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. More information here.
This 1999-filmed Meistersinger was Wolfgang Wagner´s last production at the Bayreuth Festival as well as the last production Daniel Barenboim conducted here. A statement I hope to be able to revise, at least regarding Barenboim.
This is in fact fact one of Wolfgang Wagner´s better productions, though not exactly placing him among the great Wagnerian directors of history. The main problem is that Wolfgang Wagner is a very static director. Índividual direction of the singers and exploring the personal relations of the characters does not seem to interest him, and they all seem left to their own devices. That approach rarely makes for enticing theater. What makes this production vastly better than his preceeding Meistersinger production is the sets: Conservative, but aesthetic and very elegant, stripped of all superfluities. Almost exclusively white. Being modern, according to Wolfgang Wagner, means dressing Peter Seiffert in a combination of pink and red..No doubt that Wolfgang Wagner´s knowledge of his grandfather´s works is immense and vastly exceeds that of virtually any other living director. However, transmitting this knowledge to the audience as engaging theater he unfortunately has never been able to do.
Daniel Barenboim is superb as expected in Wagner´s most treacherous work: While Meistersinger may look relatively easy and straightforward on paper, it takes something special to make it lift off and reveal the depths of the score.
Among conductors alive today I have only heard Christian Thielemann and Daniel Barenboim truly pulling that off and this Meistersinger production offers the most direct opportunity to compare these two: Daniel Barenboim conducted it until 1999, Christian Thielemann took over in 2000, making his debut at the Bayreuth Festival (Thielemann´s Bayreuth Meistersinger is available from the broadcasts). Both are attentive to detail without loosing the bigger picture and both truly understand the structure of the work. Both are grandiose. Christian Thielemann is more glittering, Daniel Barenboim is more powerful, direct and engaged. But the major difference is the impression of narcissism, pathos and sentimentalism (all in the positive sense) one gets with Thielemann. Daniel Barenboim has nothing of that, which is why he ultimately wins. But it is a very close call.
Robert Holl´s Hans Sachs I genuinely do not care for: He is traditional, elderly, uninspired and unenergetic. Vocally, his voice is definitely not unpleasant and he is up to it, without aspiring to greatness though. Dramatically, less so. And the complete lack of chemistry with Emily Magee´s Eva is appalling. Her Eva, for once, is straight and unsentimental, rather a grown-up woman than an adolescent girl. While Peter Seiffert has a great voice and is without doubt among the very few top Wagnerian tenors of today, his stand-and-deliver acting and general appearance, as always, leaves me cold. Also Andreas Schmidt's Beckmesser, though well sung, doesn´t seem to come across to the (imaginary) audience (the Bayreuth DVDs are always filmed in front of an empty auditorium). Matthias Hölle in his rather short prime, is first rate as Pogner, dignified and well sung.
Is this the preferred Meistersinger on DVD? Before actually watching it, I would have expected it to be. However, I continue to place my money on the Schenk production from the Metropolitan Opera. And no: I am no fan of the endless row of undead Schenk-shows, but this Meistersinger, for once, is rather good.
Daniel Barenboim with the Meistersinger Ouverture:
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Robert Holl: 3
Matthias Hölle: 4
Emily Magee: 3-4
Andreas Schmidt: 3-4
Peter Seiffert: 3
Wolfgang Wagner´s production: 2-3
Daniel Barenboim: 5
Overall impression: 3