Second only to the 80s Bayreuth performance as the best Tristan Und Isolde on DVD
Tristan Und Isolde is my personal favourite of Wagner's operas, although I just love Wagner's music. If I were asked why, my immediate answer would be the music, especially the Prelude to Act 1 and the Liebestod, just awe-inspiring. But the characters and story are just as compelling. Of the productions I've seen, my favourite is the 1983 Bayreuth performance. The others I saw other than this one from 1995 were the Metropolitan Opera: Live in HD performance with Deborah Voight, which I loved, and my number 3 after 1983 and 1995; the 1974 one which while technically flawed is important and has one of the best casts you can think of; the 2001 Met performance which had some impressive moments, such as Rene Pape as King Marke, but a little dull; and the 1998 performance, which apart from two good performances(Meier and Moll), Mehta trying his best, was insipidly staged, visually ugly and had the worst Tristan I've heard.
I was blown away by this 1995 one though, my second favourite after the 1983 production. It is not completely perfect; while the costumes are good and the minimalist sets effective, the stage direction while certainly impressive more often than not(the Liebestod is absolutely fantastic) does have moments where it is perplexing. Such as with the Plexiglas harnesses(maybe a symbol of inhibition but regardless they looked strange to me), plastic swords for the fights(this is an opera not a school play) and the scene where Tristan and Isolde succumb to the love draught and there is a flash of red light(what was it trying to signify?)
On the other hand, the technical parts of the DVD more than make up for this. The camera work compliments the singers and stage direction very well, the picture quality is clear and the sound is superb. It is outstanding musically. The orchestration is lush and powerful, the Prelude to Act 1 reduced me to tears, and Daniel Barenboim's conducting is never hectic, never plodding, while not as romantic-sounding as Karajan(1972) and Bohm(1966) on record, Barenboim's conducting is my personal favourite on DVD. Liebestod is simply perfection, and the Act 2 duet is erotic and exciting at the start.
The singing is superb. Waltraud Meier is the best Isolde on DVD as far as I'm concerned, vulnerable, insightful and simply riveting. Her voice is still beautiful, with the mezzo-like quality appealing and the high notes are never too squally. Siegfried Jerusalem matches her passion every step of the way, making their chemistry very believable. His voice may lack Vickers' guttural brutish strength, but it is a very pleasant voice while not sounding as though it is too heavy for him or resorting to blustering and straining(try telling that to Jon Frederic West). He is dramatically convincing too, really giving his all to the moving but very difficult third act.
As for the support cast, none are definitive to me(not surprising considering the competition, Wachter and Berry for Kurwenal, Ludwig for Brangane and Salminen and Talvela for King Marke), but they are all more than solid in their roles. In particular the King Marke of Matthias Holle, a very sympathetic, moving and sometimes intense performance with a resonant voice. Brangane is the most important and most interesting supporting character I feel in Tristan Und Isolde, and Uta Preiw is excellent in the role, very dark and rich in tone. Falk Struckmann is a slightly ordinary but well-projected and loyal Kurwenal.
Overall, a truly great production of an operatic masterpiece. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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