ALBUM TITLE: Tristan and Isolde
WORKS: Tristan and Isolde
PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo, Nina Stemme, Mihoko Fujimura, René Pape, Olaf Bär, Jared Holt, Ian Bostridge, Matthew Rose, Rolando Villazon; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Orchestra/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: EMI 558 0062
This much-heralded recording is bound to become known as ‘The Domingo Tristan’, but it is much more than that. It is, like all but the very greatest accounts of this unbelievably demanding work, uneven, but at its finest it is overwhelming, and leaves one shaken in the presence of the work’s transcendent greatness. The Isolde, Nina Stemme, has a comparatively light voice, but sings with intensity and breadth of phrasing, and with the help of Pappano and the Royal Opera House orchestra produces a shattering Liebestod.
Domingo, singing a role he has never performed on stage, has long stretches of magnificence, and then others where he seems to lapse into being a routine Italianate tenor not on home ground; but he is in fantastic voice. There is a seriously weak Brangane, who adopts an odd, choppy style and goes in for much whispering. The King Mark of René Pape is a great assumption at last captured in a worthy context. Olaf Bär’s Kurwenal is rough, but appropriately so, and heartbreaking in his loyalty to his master. The very small roles are taken by big names, an unnecessary gimmick.
The conducting, as with Domingo’s singing, is patchy, going for excitement rather than depth, and so missing the long lines of the supreme performances such as Böhm’s on DG. The sound is vivid, detailed, the singers in something like ideal balance with the orchestra. If, as has been widely broadcast, this is the last big recording to be made in a studio, then it brings that period of musical history to a grand and fitting conclusion.