Wagner: Tristan Und Isolde / Levine, Eaglen, Heppner, Met Opera

Release Date: 3/9/2004
Catalog Number: B000174509
Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: James Levine
Number of Discs: 2

Physical Format:

Notes and Editorial Reviews
2 DVD-VIDEO NTSC 073 044-9 |G|H 2|
Subtitles: German/English/French/Spanish/Chinese
A production of Metropolitan Opera Association, Inc.

R E V I E W S:

This production, unveiled for the first time in 1999, is unusual for the generally tradition-minded Met. The geometric, abstract sets are extreme in their simplicity, often given dramatic impact through lighting. King Marke’s castle, for instance, is an obelisk that sinks into the ground and then arises from it again at the King’s dramatic entrance. The rest of the stage in the second act is virtually bare—the mood being reflected by the changing color of the lighting of the backdrop. Peter Dorn’s direction, Jurgen Rose’s scenery and costumes, and Max Keller’s lighting all work together in a unified concept—a concept of theatrical minimalism.

The effect of this is to force our attention on the music, without a director’s “concept” to engage us. Frankly, that is all to the good, particularly when the music is performed at the level it is here. One cannot avoid mention of the physical size of the two lovers—Eaglen is particularly large and doesn’t move very well—but the staging manages to minimize any problem that this might cause in its static approach. In the second act love duet, we get the two mostly as silhouettes. Vocally both are in top form, which means Wagner-singing that is virtually as good as it gets today (though Voigt’s newly recorded Isolde is a bit freer in the upper register). Eaglen’s rich, dark-hued timbre envelopes the music, and she phrases with conviction and a sense of the score’s direction. Heppner is even better—certainly the finest Tristan since Vickers. He encompasses the lyrical and the dramatic demands of the role as very few tenors have, and despite his size, he cuts a very believable figure on stage. The agony on his face during King Marke’s monologue reaches right inside you.

The rest of the cast is no less good. Pape is perhaps today’s leading Marke, singing with incredible beauty of tone and profoundly deep feeling. For once Marke’s monologue seems too brief. Dalayman’s Brangaene is likewise beautifully sung and very convincing, and the same can be said of Ketelsen’s Kurwenal. Levine and his Met forces give us a luxurious account of the score. In case anyone forgot just how good the Met Orchestra has become under his leadership, this will serve as a reminder. It may be that others have brought a bit greater urgency and rhythmic tension to the score, but that is a legitimate interpretive difference, not a criticism.

DGG provides well balanced, natural sound, and Brian Large’s direction for the camera is sensitive to the original production while effectively translating it for the home screen. The titles are well done, and the Met and DGG provide a bonus in the form of some historic photos from old Met Tristan productions. All in all, this is a highly recommendable DVD.

Henry Fogel, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
1. Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner
Performer: René Pape (Bass), Jane Eaglen (Soprano), Katarina Dalayman (Mezzo Soprano), Ben Heppner (Tenor), Hans-Joachim Ketelsen (Bass)
Conductor: James Levine
Period: Romantic
Written: 1857-1859 ; Germany
1. Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner
Performer: Hans-Joachim Ketelsen (Bass), René Pape (Bass), Katarina Dalayman (Mezzo Soprano), Jane Eaglen (Soprano), Ben Heppner (Tenor)
Conductor: James Levine
Period: Romantic
Written: 1857-1859 ; Germany
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