Wagner

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Tristan und Isolde
PERFORMER: René Kollo, Matti Salminen, Johanna Meier, Hermann Becht, Hanna Schwarz; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim; dir. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (Bayreuth, 1983)
CATALOGUE NO: 073 4321
For a supposedly ‘difficult’ opera, there’s a fair choice of DVD Tristans, some of them very good – de Billy’s Liceu performance, for example, with Treleaven and Polaski, and if you can stand the bizarrely waterlogged staging, Armin Jordan’s with Forbis and Charbonnnet’s fiery Isolde. But this 1983 Bayreuth version, reappearing at last here on DVD, remains the finest.

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Filmed rather than recorded live, with the ‘hallucinatory’ last Act effectively dubbed, the recording’s still excellent, even if the surround-sound remix is a shade reverberant. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s staging steers impressively between the Romantically naturalistic and the poetic: a gnarled tree trunk doubles as ship and castle, and Isolde is symbolically isolated by her encircling robes. The garden scene is memorably atmospheric, as is Barenboim’s conducting, richly langorous if not always ideally fluent. The cast, as one could expect at Bayreuth then, is excellent. René Kollo and Johanna Meier don’t have huge voices, but sing and act with unusual expression, and even look good. Matti Salminen as King Mark and Hanna Schwarz as Brangäne are heartbreakingly intense, Hermann Becht (Kurwenal), the smaller roles and chorus are all strong, helping to make this the most integral Tristan that is currently available.

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Michael Scott Rohan