Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Tristan und Isolde
PERFORMER: René Kollo, Gwyneth Jones; Deutsche Oper Berlin Chorus & Orchestra/Jirí Kout; dir. Götz Friedrich (Berlin, 1993)
Truly a veterans’ Tristan. Both Tristan (Kollo) and Isolde (Jones) were – and look – older than their King Marke (Robert Lloyd). But experience and technique triumph and all are in wonderful voice, Kollo’s Tristan especially. Age positively helps the drama: when in their brief Act III reunion Tristan reaches out to stroke the face of Isolde, it is indescribably moving, as if the two have been separated for half a lifetime.


Günther Schneider-Siemssen’s stage designs are traditional – a diagonal stone jetty serving as a Wieland Wagner-like unit setting

for ship deck and both Marke’s and Tristan’s castles; costumes are coarse material re-creations of medieval robes. This fifth staging of Friedrich’s career saw the direction boiled down to an economic but trenchantly emotional directness with just a few surprises – Isolde’s potion chest of identical, unlabelled green bottles or Tristan’s very deliberate self-wounding on Melot’s sword.


The fluent conducting of Jiší Kout here receives some well-deserved exposure; the sound is rich and true; the TV direction unobtrusive. (The English subtitles are a disgrace, however; the notes little better.) Powerful competition comes from Arthaus’s recent DVD of Peter Konwitschny’s Munich staging, a radical, non-narrative reading that, with its deckchairs, movie projection, cocktails and onstage cor anglais player, comes curiously close to the feeling of the original medieval romance. Mike Ashman