Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: Tristan und Isolde
PERFORMER: Nina Stemme, Robert Gambill, Katarina Karnéus, Bo Skovhus, René Pape, Stephen Gadd; Glyndebourne Chorus; London PO/Jirí Belohlávek; dir. Nikolaus Lehnhoff (Glyndebourne, 2007)
CATALOGUE NO: Opus Arte OA 0988 D (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic) 358 mins (3 discs)
This is Glyndebourne’s first Wagner production. Fulfilling founder John Christie’s original dream, it opened in 2003 and was revived in 2007, when this DVD was recorded, to considerable acclaim. And it’s not hard to see why; you seldom find this level of ensemble in Wagner.Jirí Belohlávek is no Wagnerian giant, but the warmth of his reading and the translucent textures, sluiced free of Teutonic stodge, exactly suit Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s intimate staging. Against an abstract set, a frozen vortex glowingly lit by designer Roland Aeschlimann, his medievally-costumed protagonists move in somewhat stylised manner, often addressing the audience rather than each other; but this is preferable to the aimless stumblings in, for example, La Scala’s new staging, and curiously enhances the sense of intimacy – especially with such involving singers.Stemme’s fiery Irish princess is even finer than on the Domingo CD, her clean-cut Scandic soprano arrestingly enhanced by her expressive features and lissom presence. Gambill’s burly Tristan projects a darker, more resigned intensity, the lyric tenor of his earlier career acquiring heroic heft and baritonal shadings. Pape’s black-voiced Marke rightly dominates the stage, more incisive than the usual old codger and more heartbreaking. Skovhus is rather a rough Kurwenal, not inappropriately, but Karneus is a passionate, lusciously sung Brangäne. Gadd’s Melot, unfortunately required to slink around sneering like Iznogud, delivers his few lines with powerful promise.So, as one critic has claimed, is Sussex rather than Bayreuth now Wagner’s spiritual home? Well, Lehnhoff’s Glyndebourne production doesn’t outclass Daniel Barenboim’s magnificent video, and it makes the ‘traditional’ Act II cuts. But those looking for a Tristan with warmth and immediacy will fint certainly shares Barenboim’s benchmark recommendation.