Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tristan und Isolde
Daniel Barenboim, cond; René Kollo (
); Johanna Meier (
); Matti Salminen (
); Hermann Becht (
); Hanna Schwarz (
); Robert Schunk (
Melot, A young sailor
); Martin Egel
); Bayreuth Festival O & Ch
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000916309 (2 DVDs: 245:00)
Absolutely stunning from a visual standpoint, this Bayreuth
Tristan und Isolde
was filmed at the Festspielhaus over nine days in October of 1983. The production was both designed and directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. He utilizes a color palette that’s virtually limited to grays, whites, and blacks to generate a view of the world that is entirely that of the two protagonists, underscoring the dualities of light and dark, day and night, life and death. The set for act II is a forest as from a half-remembered dream—dark, dense, mysterious, and threatening—dominated by a single massive, ancient tree. As a director, Ponnelle also shows great imagination. One of the toughest few minutes of Wagner to stage are those 36 bars between the lovers’ imbibing the fateful drink and their first ecstatic declarations of mutual adoration. In most productions, there’s a certain amount of staggering around followed by some extended staring into each other’s eyes. Here, the two share the draught from a large, plate-like metal vessel and end up regarding their reflection in the thing as the potion takes effect. The staging at the end of the opera is brilliant. After the score tells us that Tristan has succumbed to his wounds, René Kollo sits quietly with his eyes open, a rapt expression on his face. For once, Isolde doesn’t have to sing the most famous vocal selection in all of Wagner’s music to a corpse. During the final measures, the stage gets very dark and when the scene again turns visible, Isolde is nowhere to be seen. She came to join Tristan in death only in her beloved’s reality, not to those looking on, not to Marke, Brangäne, or us.
Barenboim’s leadership is magnificent. He keeps things moving along—the six-to-a-bar pulse of act I’s
is easy to feel. But he also knows when to make time stand still, typically when Tristan and Isolde want time to stop, as when their night of love has been harshly terminated. The sweep and passion of Barenboim’s direction benefits every singer.
Tristan could be the Heldentenor role for which Kollo was best suited. He’s a fine actor and looks the part. Even if his performance in act III, vocally, isn’t as agonizing as Jon Vickers’s, it still compellingly reveals a man in torment. (A Vickers/Nilsson/Böhm
is available on a Kultur DVD. It’s a treat.) Johanna Meier conveys her fury powerfully right from her first entrance, with moments of private clarity (“Destined for me, lost to me”) and when she recalls her first encounter with Tristan on the coast of Ireland, the scene is vividly painted for the listener.
Salminen’s long speech at the end of act II is majestic, sadly comprehending of the meaning of Tristan’s betrayal; it’s less about a personal affront than a blow at the values of duty and honor. He puts his arm around Tristan’s shoulder in a fatherly fashion and the tone of his voice doesn’t reveal ire nearly as much as disappointment. There can be no complaints about Hermann Becht’s Kurwenal, forthrightly tactless in act I, genuinely grieving in act III, or Hanna Schwarz’s strong and empathetic Brangäne.
Subtitles are available in German, English, French, Spanish, and Chinese. DG offers AMSI II (“Ambient Sound Imaging”), allegedly to provide “authentic 5.1 surround sound.” Don’t go for it—stick with the PCM two-channel option for smoother, more realistic sonics. The camerawork is masterful, especially in view of the low-lighting environment that frequently prevails. It should be noted that Kollo clearly overdubbed much of his part in act III; it’s hard to imagine how he could possibly have sung that well while going through the contortions he was going through on stage (on his back, head below the level of his chest, etc.) but that’s okay by me, given the final product. Top recommendation.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Staged and directed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
2 DVD-VIDEO NTSC 073 4321 |G|H 2|
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 4:3
A production of UNITEL, Munich
Works on This Recording
Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner
Helmut Pampuch (Tenor),
Robert Schunk (Tenor),
Hermann Becht (Bass),
Johanna Meier (Soprano),
Hanna Schwarz (Mezzo Soprano),
Matti Salminen (Bass),
René Kollo (Tenor)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Written: 1857-1859; Germany
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