Notes and Editorial Reviews
This set includes 3 CDs plus 1 CD-Rom containing a libretto and synopsis.
Rumored to be EMI's last opera recording made in a studio, this much awaited set's raison d'être is the Tristan of Placido Domingo. Now in his mid-60s, it is relatively certain that he'll never sing the role onstage, and since it is the pinnacle of German opera tenor roles and Domingo loves a good challenge (and besides that, he's conquered Otello, the pinnacle of Italian tenor roles, and dozens of others), it is natural that he'd want to sing it. His baritonally-tinged tenor is in remarkably good shape (both on stage currently and here, on this recording), and he has done a great deal of work to get this role right. Wagner wanted his
operas sung in the Italian manner, and so Domingo's juicy, Mediterranean sound and smooth legato are most welcome; it's the barking of most other tenors that is unpleasant and anachronistic.
For the most part, Domingo's portrayal is a success. Vocally there are almost no problems--perhaps a bit of strain in the long third-act rants and an inability to sing truly pianissimo--and for the most part, he gets through this epic role unscathed. Emotionally and psychologically it would take another few years for him to get inside Tristan, and here he seems to miss the character's depth at times. He's remarkable at first, sounding spontaneously surprised/outraged at Isolde's request to see him. But once he's in dialogue with her his attention seems to flag; he lacks the snap in his retorts that is required. Something similar happens in Act 2: after a spectacular entrance and exchange with Isolde, he slips into what seems like automatic pilot for the day/night/ecstasy business in the love duet. The fact that he returns splendidly for "O König" only points up his previous disinterest. Act 3 is magnificent--nuanced, raving, and desperate, without perhaps the sheer mania of Vickers, but certainly with more vocal control. It's a very moving and handsome portrayal.
Swedish soprano Nina Stemme is mightily impressive as Isolde. The voice is beautiful, the tone focused if somewhat less broad than what we're accustomed to in this part--that is, Flagstad, Nilsson, Leider, Mödl, Varnay. Her whole sound is young and vibrant (very rare in this part) and it's a joy to hear the high Bs and Cs shot out so securely, with no danger of spreading or losing their tonal center. Her piano singing could use some work, but the same was said about Nilsson early on. What Stemme misses (or can't express vocally) is Isolde's sarcasm and deep-rooted resentment in Act 1; she's good at anger, but it needs more refining. Nevertheless, she's a terrific Isolde and will only get better if she husbands her resources.
Mihoko Fujimara is an oddly light Brangaene. At first she seems disengaged, but that's not it--she's a lyrical maid-servant who has her own way of dealing with her Princess. She's dreamily effective in her Warning. Olaf Bär's Kurwenal is very like Fischer-Dieskau's: he attempts to roughen his sound more than necessary and there's a sense of forcing the character, but he's grand in the last act. René Pape is a youthful, bruised Marke. What a voice! Luxury casting gives us the stunning Seaman of Rolando Villazon, just a bit too distantly recorded, and Ian Bostridge, who effectively whispers the role of the Shepherd. The others are just as fine.
Antonio Pappano is unarguably a great opera conductor, as he has proven with his French-language Don Carlos, his Tosca, Manon, and Werther--and he does not disappoint here. His Tristan lacks the metaphysical, heavily philosophized grandeur of Furtwängler's and the neurotic rush-to-death of Böhm's, but it is a powerful statement nonetheless. He understands and communicates the omnipresent longing as well as the desolation; the prelude to the last act is anguished in the extreme. His fortes are a knock-out and he handles the quiet moments with real intimacy. His tempos are fleet--the opera takes 226 minutes (Furtwängler takes 256; Solti's first recording 239, just to give some perspective)--but only once do they seem inappropriate: as Tristan launches into "So starben wir..." near the end of the Love Duet, the pace is practically jaunty, clearly a miscalculation. The recorded sound is excellent despite misjudgments in the far placement of the brass announcing Marke's arrival in Act 1, and the gorgeous cor anglais solo in the last act, which is too close. Orchestra and chorus could not be better. [9/15/2005]
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com [reviewing the original release of this recording, EMI 58006] Read less
Works on This Recording
Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner
Jared Holt (Tenor),
Rolando Villazón (Tenor),
René Pape (Bass),
Mihoko Fujimura (Alto),
Nina Stemme (Soprano),
Matthew Rose (Bass),
Olaf Bär (Baritone),
Placido Domingo (Tenor),
Ian Bostridge (Tenor)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Written: 1857-1859; Germany
Date of Recording: 2004-2005
Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studio 1, London, England
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