Tristan und Isolde (DVD)
Andreas Schager, Anja Kampe, Ekaterina Gubanova, Boaz Daniel, Stephen Milling, Stephan Rügamer; Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim; dir. Dmitri Tcherniakov (Berlin, 2021)
Bel Air Classiques DVD: BAC165; Blu-ray: BAC465 254 mins
Recorded at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, in April 2018, Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production is conducted by the company’s general musical director, Daniel Barenboim. His contribution is masterly, especially in terms of the impeccable balance and refinement of the orchestral playing and the steady momentum of his finely shaped interpretation, which rises, when required, to the excitingly impetuous: nothing that one sees and hears on stage measures up to it.
Often an insightful director, Dmitri Tcherniakov is here by no means at his best. We’re on board a modern vessel, where the mythic elements of the story seem strangely out of place amidst a Cornish court that is more like a highly competitive business boardroom, with Stephen Milling’s vehement King Marke – the most consistent of the principals – the stern CEO. Tcherniakov’s approach is reductive: he seems to want to diminish – if not actually erase – the opera’s profound philosophical and spiritual dimensions. When Tristan and Isolde recover from the immediate effects of the potion, they simply cannot stop laughing.
The performance also underlines how difficult it is to cast the two leads, with neither of the iconic lovers sufficiently strong from a purely vocal point of view. Andreas Schager’s Tristan is less than ideally steady, while Anja Kampe’s Isolde is uneven, her bitter fury in Act I too laid back, though she’s more effective later on. Boaz Daniel’s roughhewn Kurwenal and Ekaterina Gubanova’s ordinary Brangäne are decent enough though, again, underplayed in Tcherniakov’s ineffective vision of the piece.