Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Promotion Text

Lebendige Vergangenheit

"When he boxed his apprentice David, elevating him to the status of journeyman, the entire stage was aglow with goodness.". Thus Günther Treptow described the great heroic baritone Wilhelm Rode (1887-1959) in the role of Hans Sachs. The 1938 recording made in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia) ofthe third act of Die Meistersinger delivers impressive confirmation of this description. This is the role in which Rode established an international reputation, having first performed it in 1922 at the Munich Opera Festival and then singing it repeatedly until 1939. The present recording hardly tallies with the image that was deliberately promulgated after 1945 of Rode as an "unperson". Completely unfounded are reproaches of excessive melodrama, over-singing, exaggerated gestures or fanatical nationalism as well as the accusation that Rode was a "singer at Nazi Party rallies". The latter assertion is a fabrication: Rode never participated in any of the Nürnberg Party Days. In this regard and in others as well that will not be discussed here, the accusations made against the singer and artist Rode were highly effective post­ war propaganda and a perfect example of clever·character assassination, leading to prejudices that remain alive almost seven decades later. lt may be more than a coincidence that the most prominent interpreters of Hans Sachs in the late 1930s and early 1940s were preserved in more-or-less live recordings, made at almost the same time. No fewer than three versions of the third act of Die Meistersinger were recorded in 1938, the 125th anniversary of Wagner's birth. On 18 May of that year Leipzig Radiobroadcast the entire work world-wide but recorded only the last act. Hans Sachs was sung by Josef von Manowarda, more of a bass than an heroic baritone. Despite the intensity of his singing, the glory of his voice and pathos were unmistakably more important to him than a differentiated rendition of the text. On 24 June, Königsberg Radio recorded a concert performance of the opera with Rode as Hans Sachs. Also in June 1938, Electrola recorded selections from the work. Here Hans Hermann Nissen interpreted the role of the cobbler poet, which he had previously recorded at the Salzburg Festival in 1936 and 1937. From 1928 to 1939, Nissen had alternated with Rode in the role of Sachs at the annual Munich Festival. He can be heard in the recorded studio production of 1938, as well as in the live recordings of the previous year, in performances that are more impassioned and focused on the voice than those of Rode. This is remarkable because the performances conducted by Toscanini in Salzburg were intended to emphasize "humanity" in contrast to the "nationalistic" performances of the Nazi Party Days. The partially preserved recording from the Nürnberg Party Day of 1938 shows, however, that Rudolf Bockelmann, who had been the standard Sachs since 1936, did not impart more emotion and vocal power to the role than Nissen, but he clearly surpassed Rode in this regard. In addition, it should be noted that Friedrich Schorr, who was ousted from Salzburg by Toscanini in 1936, does not wholly abandon pathos in his recording at the Metropolitan Opera in December 1939. Despite the Toscanini propaganda that has remained uncorrected today, he was in _astonishingly good voice. The two Bayreuth interpreters of Sachs in 1943, Jaro Prohaska and Paul Schöffler, were also accused of pathos and grand gestures when their recordings were publicly issued, decades after being made. This was indeed a popular way to criticize the successful singers of that "dark" period. But it is not without justification to examine the emotional character that the concept of the role itself carries with it. After all, a speech "made loudly to the people" requires grand gestures and a certain pathos if it is not to go unheard. As the Königsberg Radio recording shows, Rode's portrayal of the cobbler poet found life in his straightforward openness and his charisma of kindly humanity. The virtuosity of his sonorous parlando and his meticulous diction were impressive and exemplary, even for a Wagnerian singer of his generation. Where the role required it, he also effectively used pathos and vocal power. Among the Sachs singers of his generation, however, he was the simplest, most restrained and, probably for that very reason, the most convincing. When Rode retired from the operatic stage in 1950, singing the role in Regensburg for the last time, the critic Rheude called him "a model for the rising generation of Wagnerian singers". The two most important Hans Sachs singers of the immediate post-war period, Paul Schöffler and Josef Herrmann, were unmistakably influenced by him. For the Königsberg Radio recording, Rode brought with him the Eva, David and Beckmesser from his Berlin ensemble. Following engagements in Kaiserslautern and Bremerhaven, Bertha Stetzler (* 1903) had been one of the principal sopranos at the Deutsches Opernhaus since 1936. She hardly ever appeared outside Berlin, but we do know of several guest appearances, mostly as Eva, at Basle, Bucharest, The Hague and Amsterdam. In 1949 she retired from the stage. Even less is known about the buffo tenor Reinhard Dörr. He began his career as a singer and actor in 1930 in Oberhausen and came via Hagen, Saarbrücken and Erfurt to the Deutsches Opernhaus in Berlin in 1937. There he sang such roles as Jaquino, Steuermann, Nando and Fenton in 1943. He died in Berlin in December of the same year. All the more renowned was Eduard Kandl (1876-1966), …