Notes and Editorial Reviews
Also available on Blu-ray
TRISTAN UND ISOLDE
Tristan – Robert Gambill
Isolde – Nina Stemme
Brangäne – Katarina Karnéus
Kruwenal – Bo Skovhus
King Marke – René Pape
Melot – Stephen Gadd
Young Sailor / Shepherd – Timothy Robinson
Steersman – Richard Mosley-Evans
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Jirí Belohlávek, conductor
Nikolaus Lehnhoff, stage director
Recorded live at Glyndebourne, Lewes, Sussex on 29 July, 1 and 6 August 2007
- "On the set" – a slide show of the set being built
-"Trimborn on Tristan" – a talk about the musicological and philosophical backgrounds of Tristan und Isolde.
- A film by Reiner E. Moritz
- Illustrated synopsis and cast gallery
Picture format: NTSC 16:9 anamorphic
Sound formats: DTS 5.1 / LPCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu languages: English
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 350 mins
No. of DVDs: 3
R E V I E W:
WAGNER Tristan und Isolde • Ji?í B?lohlávek, cond; Robert Gambill (Tristan); Nina Stemme (Isolde); Katarina Karnéus (Brangäne); Bo Skovhus (Kurwenal); René Pape (King Marke); Stephen Gadd (Melot); Timothy Robinson (Young Sailor/Shepherd); Richard Mosley-Evans (Steersman); London PO; Glyndebourne Ch • BBC/OPUS ARTE 988 (3 DVDs: 358:00)
& “Trimborn on Tristan, ” a talk; “Do I hear the light?”, a film; slides of set building; artists bios; cast gallery; synopsis Buy Tristan und Isolde From Amazon Tristan und Isolde DVD; Box set BBC / Opus Arte
Wagner’s operas have long attracted the best stage directors but there’s none with more penetrating and revelatory insights than Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Lehnhoff’s Parsifal and Lohengrin, both conducted by Kent Nagano and covered, respectively, in Fanfare issues 29:2 and 30:5, were powerfully involving. His take on Tristan und Isolde, filmed at Glyndebourne in August of 2007, is definitely in the same class.
Lehnhoff’s productions have shown a profound understanding that the success of the composer’s dramas as theater derives from the music itself and no attempt is made to introduce superfluous stagy elements that could distract or annoy. There is not much “action” in Tristan to begin with and, if anything, the director strips things down further. We hear but do not see any crew members on the ship—only the four principals appear during act I (plus Melot, who wordlessly and ominously crosses the stage during the final seconds). Lehnhoff spares us the usual vertiginous side effects that Tristan and Isolde often suffer after consuming the love draught: the couple simply disappears for the several minutes of music preceding their passionate declarations. In his characteristically heady, yet straightforward note in the set’s booklet, Lehnhoff explains, “the setting of this plot is the soul.” He describes the staging as “concrete and instrumental.” The shepherd doesn’t pretend to play a pipe during the long English horn solo and, when Tristan challenges Melot at the close of act II, he literally pulls his opponent’s sword into his midsection so there’s no question of his suicidal intent.
Nina Stemme, of course, was the Isolde for Plácido Domingo’s high-profile Tristan a few years ago. Along with Deborah Voigt, she should be delivering wonderful representations of this character for years to come. Stemme inhabits the role: her forceful defense to Brangäne of the path she’s taken, at the beginning of act II, is no less spirited than the desperate fury of her outbursts in act I; Isolde is still the same woman she was before the potion. Her voice is rich and full, almost plush, coherent from a confident top to an earthy bottom, and she communicates the layers of meaning of her texts wonderfully. The “Liebestod,” which the soprano has described as “a song from space,” provides the release and resolution necessary for the preceding three-and-a-half hours to be worth the emotional investment by a listener. Robert Gambill, who sang a very impressive Siegmund for Lothar Zagrosek (on Naxos CDs and Euroarts or Tdk DVDs) is not among the most elite of current Heldentenors, singers like Ben Heppner or Peter Seifert. But thanks to the exceptionally intelligent use of his not-inconsequential instrument and knowing support from Ji?í B?lohlávek in the pit, Gambill succeeds admirably, even when Stemme isn’t around in act III. The hesitancy with which he queries Kurwenal about his circumstances when he first comes to in Brittany lets us know what kind of shape Tristan is in. What follows fully communicates the hero’s physical and psychic pain, even if the raw agony of a Jon Vickers can’t be duplicated. In act II, Gambill’s response to Marke’s long speech (“Wohin nun Tristan scheidet, wilst du, Isold’, ihm folgen?”) is a highlight of his performance.
As Brangäne, Katarina Karnéus is outstanding, palpably conflicted about her responsibilities to her mistress. She’s a terrific singing actress who makes her scene with Stemme in the second act memorably compelling. Some will find Bo Skovhus’s voice a little light for Kurwenal but he, too, does the job from a dramatic standpoint. René Pape is the Wagnerian bass of his generation, presenting King Marke with dignity and a sense of hurt that’s very moving. B?lohlávek assures a worthy orchestral contribution from the venerable London ensemble. Act I’s Prelude is taken at a languorous tempo and the timings for acts I and III are on the long side, though not grotesquely so, by any means.
Picture quality is superb—a Blu-ray release would be most welcome—and the sound, both PCM Stereo and DTS Surround, has gratifying weight and detail. The multichannel version offers a luxuriant but natural spaciousness. In surround, Brangäne’s voice in act II and the English horn solos in act III have a disembodied quality that seems apt. Subtitles are offered in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian.
In addition to the usual plot synopsis and “cast gallery,” Opus Arte provides two substantial “extras” which are responsible for this set’s running time of close to six hours. The first is a short film by Reiner E. Moritz (it’s 56 minutes in duration) entitled “Do I hear the light?” made at Glyndebourne. There are shots of some awfully privileged-appearing operagoers enjoying picnic dinners and champagne on the Glyndebourne lawn but also and more important, commentary from the principal singers, conductor, and others. Not surprisingly, it’s Nikolaus Lehnhoff who is the most interesting, expressing himself on camera as epigrammatically as he does in print. (“Dying to live is the device of love.”) Mostly, the feature serves to show that everyone was truly on the same page when it came to an understanding of Tristan, which was surely a key factor in the great success of this performance.
The second extra feature is a talk from the keyboard by the German musicologist Richard Trimborn that relates specific musical aspects of the opera to philosophical, psychological, and biographical issues. Trimborn clearly knows a lot about Wagner, and his discourse will be a treat for those already possessing some background on the composer’s life and work. For the completely uninitiated, the lecture may be a little hard to keep up with as the scholar jumps all over the place, touching on Schopenhauer, Gottfried von Strassburg, Buddhism, Mozart, Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, Carlos Kleiber, the druids—among much else. Clearly, Trimborn could have gone on for hours.
So, this Tristan und Isolde deserves the highest recommendation. Among DVDs, I’d pick it over Levine, Barenboim, Jordan, or De Billy. (An amazing Vickers/Nilsson/Böhm set on Kultur is very much a specialty item because of dim monaural sound and grainy picture quality.) This Opus Arte release isn’t a bad choice at all for those looking to acquire their first video Tristan.
Fanfare: Andrew Quint
Works on This Recording
Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner
Timothy Robinson (Tenor),
Stephen Gadd (Bass),
Katarina Karnéus (Mezzo Soprano),
Nina Stemme (Soprano),
René Pape (Bass),
Robert Gambill (Tenor),
Bo Skovhus (Baritone)
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Written: 1857-1859; Germany
Date of Recording: 2007
Venue: Glyndebourne, Lewes, Sussex
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