Notes and Editorial Reviews
TRISTAN UND ISOLDE
Tristan – Jon Fredric West
King Marke – Kurt Moll
Isolde – Waltraud Meier
Kurwenal – Bernd Weikl
Melot – Claes-Hakan Ahnsjö
Brangäne – Marjana Lipovsek
Shepherd – Kevin Conners
Helmsman – Hans Wilbrink
Young Sailor – Ulrich Ress
Bavarian State Opera Chorus
(chorus master: Udo Mehrpohl)
Bavarian State Orchestra
Zubin Mehta, conductor
Peter Konwitschny, stage director
Johannes Leiacker, set and costume designer
Michael Bauer, lighting designer
Recorded live from the Nationaltheater Munich, 1998
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 2.0
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Dutch, Korean
Running time: 241 mins
No. of DVDs: 2 (DVD 9)
R E V IE W: 3753590.az_WAGNER_Tristan_Isolde_Zubin.html
WAGNER Tristan und Isolde • Zubin Mehta, cond; Jon Fredric West (Tristan); Waltraud Meier (Isolde); Marjana Lipov?ek (Brangäne); Bernd Weikl (Kurwenal); Kurt Moll (King Marke); Claes H. Ahnsjö (Melot); Ulrich Ress (Sailor); Kevin Conners (Shepherd); Hans Wilbrink (Sailor); Bavarian St Op O & Ch • ARTHAUS 100057 (2 DVDs: 240:37) Live: Munich 1998
This Bavarian Opera production of Tristan und Isolde, dating from 1998 and previously issued by Image Entertainment, was staged by Peter Konwitschny with set designs and costumes by Johannes Leiacker. The stage action is OK, but the sets and costumes are tacky. From the very first scene, Tristan’s ship looks like a cartoon version of a cruise ship, complete with deckchairs (Brangäne is sitting in one of them), tall, cool drinks with little doodads on the straws, and a helmsman who, in his white sailor-boy outfit, complete with cute little hat and long black tie, looks like an extra from H.M.S. Pinafore. Tristan stands to one side, absent-mindedly shaving his beard while Isolde tells him of how she consecrated Morold’s weapons for him. Isolde, wearing a white dress with big red pom-poms on her sleeves, looks a bit like a circus clown, but she does have red hair, so at least Konwitschny knows the legend.
In this case, however, the silly sets and costumes do not kill the performance because the conducting and cast are just too good. After a languorous, sensuous reading of the Prelude in which Mehta seemed to be channeling Wilhelm Furtwängler, he gives us a performance so highly dramatic and sharply etched that it closely resembles the recorded performances of Karl Böhm, and his cast is with him every step of the way. Here in her glorious prime, Meier flies through the killer role of Isolde as if she were born to sing it, including dead-on, ringing high Cs in the first act. Lipov?ek never did have a particularly sensuous or beautiful voice, but she was such an outstanding musician and actress that she came to practically inhabit the roles she sang, and her Brangäne is no exception. I’ve heard Brangäne sung very well by other mezzos, particularly Sabina Kalter in the old 1936 Covent Garden Tristan and Katarina Karneus in Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s excellent 2007 production for Glyndebourne, but never with this kind of sharply-etched dramatic profile. Bernd Weikl is a powerful-voiced and dramatically excellent Kurwenal and Kurt Moll was still in his glorious prime when he sang King Marke here.
The most interesting performance, however, is that of Jon Fredric West as Tristan. At that time, at least, he possessed a voice of astonishing brightness for Tristan, placed very high in the mask and with the kind of ring and ping one normally associates with the Italian repertoire. Of course, Wagner loved Italian singers and chose them whenever he could to sing roles in his music dramas, so that in itself is not upsetting; it’s just different. True, he has a little trouble going down into the low range for the love duet (and oddly, that’s where you hear a slight “spread” in the voice, on the bottom), but it’s actually nice to hear such a bright voice sing this demanding role. Nor does the voice sound stressed except for one klunker in the love duet.
But folks, let me tell you—Waltraud Meier was absolutely flying that night. Her voice took wings and spun out into the theater like the veritable wail of the ancient Irish princess herself. No other recorded Isolde—not even Meier’s earlier (1995) version with Siegfried Jerusalem and Daniel Barenboim—is so vital, so fresh, so full of life and so dramatically detailed as this one. Here is singing and acting for the ages, and we are very lucky to have it on a videodisc to see and hear over and over again. So what if Tristan drags out a garish, bright yellow-upholstered love seat for the duet? Who cares if Brangäne’s Watch is sung onstage, right behind them (so how could she act as a lookout?) instead of offstage? The drama is all in the singing, the acting, and the orchestra. The sets and costumes are as irrelevant here as if the opera were set on Mars, but the singing is celestial indeed.
At the start of act III we see a brown-and-white slide of an old castle projected on the back of the stage … finally, something appropriate. Yet this is in turn replaced with slides of a little boy and his dog sitting on a beach, a little boy (the same one?) standing in shadows, poking a stick on the waves as they lap up on the shore, and close-ups of a strange woman’s face. (Another silly idea: As Tristan sings of his mother’s fate, he walks to the apron of the stage and kneels down as the English hornist and clarinetist stand up, move out of their places, and come to join him there. He takes the English horn out of the player’s hands and holds it up in the air for no apparent reason.) Near the end, as Marke is singing, Tristan (stage left) and Isolde (stage right) slowly bring the stage curtains towards the middle, then close them when Brangäne sings. The pair touch hands, then Tristan kneels down as Isolde sings her Liebestod. Afterwards, they take each other’s hands and walk off towards stage left, where a pair of coffins awaits them.
A bit over the top? Yes. But who cares? Weikl is superb, West is singing (and acting) up a storm, and Mehta’s conducting is still outstanding. Somehow or other, this cast seems to have been able to mentally divorce themselves from the direction and sets to give a great and moving performance of the opera, so even though we have their great interpretations set in a trashy frame, in the end it remains an overwhelming theatrical experience. Just imagine that they’re performing on a totally bare stage and you’ll be all right. If you love this opera, you’d only be cheating yourself if you didn’t get it.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley Read less
Works on This Recording
Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner
Bernd Weikl (Baritone),
Jon Frederick West (Tenor),
Waltraud Meier (Soprano),
Kurt Moll (Bass)
Bavarian State Orchestra,
Bavarian State Opera Chorus
Written: 1857-1859; Germany
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