A "New" Reiner Meistersinger: Conducting "Ja," singing mostly "Nein"
At the end of the Entrance of the Meistersinger in Act III of Orfeo's recent first authorized issue of Fritz Reiner's 1955 Vienna State Opera performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger, the audience goes wild, almost stopping the show--extended cheering and applause...frankly, I've rarely heard anything like it. While I still think the greatest performance of this scene I've ever heard was Furtwaengler at Bayreuth in 1943, Reiner's orchestra (the VPO) is superior--the brass is especially magnificent, and we all know what Reiner could do with brass. It's one of my favorite scenes in all opera, and while Furtwaengler's is one of the most thrilling things I've ever heard in a live performance, Reiner runs a very respectable second.
Unfortunately, the singing is variable throughout. Paul Schoeffler's Sachs (though not at his best vocally) and (especially) Gottlob Frick's Pogner are both superb (this may be one of the finest pieces of work in Frick's recorded legacy--he sings with great intelligence, and is in his absolute vocal prime). Irmgard Seefried's Eva is very fine if a tad lightweight, and Hans Beirer's Walther (pun intended) is unbearable; the rest are a decidedly mixed bag. Rosette Anday's Magdalene is awful--almost ruining the performance at times, and the chorus--so central to this work--is not at its best; a bit sloppy.
Paul Schoeffler as Hans Sachs
The sound--another one of those excellent 1955 Vienna festival tapings--is vivid and alive, almost miraculous, given the date. (Rule out Furtwaengler only because of the singing [which, all told, is really better than the Reiner] and the missing Quintet, not the sound. M&A has rendered it more than listenable--it's stunning for a 1943 tape [and yes, it is tape].)