With the support of the Peter Moores Foundation, Chandos initiated its Opera in English series in 1990 and has since produced dozens of opera recordings in English translation. With its Archive Edition, the label is able to release previously recorded performances. This live BBC recording of Mastersingers is taken from a 1968 production by Sadler's Wells, conducted by Reginald Goodall. The nineteenth century translation by Frederick Jameson, revised by Norman Feasey and Gordon Kember, is natural sounding and fits the text well; there's undeniable value in hearing even a familiar work in one's native language.
Goodall takes an unusually measured and sober approach to the Prelude. His tempo here is a harbinger of his approach to the opera; this version lasts a half hour longer than the average recorded performance, making it perhaps the longest version on disc. The leisurely pace takes some adjustment, but once expectations are realigned, the timing makes sense. Except for Norman Bailey as Hans Sachs, the cast is not made up of internationally known Wagnerians, but Die Meistersinger is very much an ensemble piece, so there are benefits to having a strong ensemble company like Sadler's Wells tackle it. The individual performances may not meet the highest international standards for Wagnerian vocal power and luster, but taken on their own terms, the performances are fully satisfying, with an infectious intimacy. Alberto Remedios' voice is light, but with plenty of resonance; his convincing Walther is warmly lyrical and passionate, and the "Prize Song" is thrilling. Gregory Dempsey is especially ingratiating as David, and Derek Hammond-Stroud's Beckmesser is incisively etched. Margaret Curphey's Eva is maidenly and warm, and her singing becomes increasingly radiant as the opera progresses. As a deeply human as any sympathetic Sachs, Bailey sings with the authority and assurance for which he was known in the part, even though he doesn't have the sheer vocal beauty of the greatest interpreters of the role.
The recording has some ancillary stage noises that aren't too distracting, but overall the sound isn't especially clean. The balance is generally good, but occasionally the singers' movement around the stage makes them sound a little distant. The sound quality isn't consistent between acts; Act II, for instance, seems to be miked at a lower level than Act I, and has noticeably more tape hiss.