Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Tristan und Isolde
PERFORMER: René Kollo, Robert Lloyd, Gwyneth Jones, Gerd Feldhoff, Peter Edelmann, Hanna Schwarz, Clemens Bieber; German Opera Berlin Chorus & Orchestra/Jiπí Kout; dir. Götz Friedrich (Toyko, 1993)
CATALOGUE NO: TDK DV-OPTRIS (PAL system; LPCM stereo; 16:9 anamorphic)

On its first DVD showing in 2003 this 1993 recording wasn’t that well received. Since then several more acclaimed Tristans have appeared – so what hope for this now?
Actually, it’s clear those critical reactions were rather harsh. Yes, it’s flawed, but it’s far more potent than I remembered, not least the late Götz Friedrich’s solidly human, deeply-felt staging.
Günther Schneider-Siemssen’s platform setting was considered bleak but compared, say, to Daniel Barenboim’s much-praised recent La Scala recording, it seems positively atmospheric.
And René Kollo’s Tristan, though drier-toned and less expressive than his younger self in Barenboim’s first Bayreuth DVD, is still a more affecting performer than Scala’s Ian Storey. 
Other performances are excellent enough to make this worthwhile. Jirí Kout’s conducting hasn’t the scale of Barenboim’s, or the glow of Glyndebourne’s Jirí Belohlávek, but it’s notably warm, dramatic and well played.
Those who saw Dame Gwyneth Jones at Covent Garden around this time will know what to expect from her voice – a squally disintegrating top, and a midrange still glowing but sadly forced.
But if this is a ruin, it’s a ruin with considerable grandeur; the more so as, even if close-ups are unkind, her acting remains intense and radiantly feminine. Though I’d recommend either of Barenboim’s quite wonderful Bayreuth DVDs, this still has claims as a second version. Michael Scott Rohan