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Opera Both Exalted, Restrained

*** WAGNER: "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg." Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, conductor. (London)

March 16, 1997|Mark Swed

Georg Solti has been recording for the same label for 50 years and this limited-edition set, dolled up in a faux leather binding, is his reward. Solti's has been a Wagner-drunk career, and even in his 80s he retains some of his characteristic nervous energy. But here, in a live concert performance from last season, Solti also displays evidence of having mellowed. He has tried for a chamber music effect and gets it in what is his most restrained yet exalted Wagner on record. More typical of Solti is the excellence of the cast. Jose van Dam, as the cobbler who serves art and love so affectingly, is one of the most refined and sensitive Hans Sachs on record. Ben Heppner's Walter, the knight who masters mastersinging overnight and wins Eva, is radiant and secure. Karita Mattila is an unusually elegant Eva. Alan Opie follows the essential practice of humanizing Beckmesser, underplaying as much as possible Wagner's anti-Semitism. Mastersingers, chorus and orchestra are distinguished. While this may not achieve the glow of the greatest "Meistersingers" on disc (Rafael Kubelik's 1967 Myto recording for one), it's the best and wisest to come along in some time.

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