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Despite my love for the opera and Meier's astonishing performance, I personally found this production rather insipid...

5/10
Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
18 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I want to start by saying I love opera and Tristan Und Isolde, in fact it is my favourite Wagner opera. This was a production I really wanted to like. I mean there is Zubin Mehta, a very talented and authoritative conductor whose recordings of Il Trovatore and La Fanciulla Del West are among my favourites of those respective operas. There are also Waltraud Meier, a wonderful Santuzza, Kundry and Eboli, Marjana Lipvosek who gave me chills as the Nurse in Die Frau Ohne Schatten, Bernd Weikl, an outstanding Jokhanaan, Hans Sachs and Amfortas in his prime, and Kurt Moll, a supreme Sarastro, Baron Ochs and Gurnamanz.

Unfortunately, although it is not a complete disaster, I just found it sad that a production with so much potential with so many talented people involved could fall so flat. It does get plaudits for the magnificent music which Mehta conducts with precision and superb sound and picture quality. There are also two good performances. The best of the support cast is by far Moll as King Marke. Although I find Salminen and Pape on stage and Talvela on record more powerful in the role, I did find Moll very moving on the whole. His acting is firm and noble if occasionally a little stolid, but the revelation was the singing. Moll demonstrates a very warm and rich voice with solid basso notes and a top that rings out.

The best of the overall cast though is Meier. Her Isolde is absolutely astonishing. The best Isolde ever? Possibly not, I have a big soft spot for Birgit Nilsson and Kirsten Flagstead. The best on DVD? I think so. She is a beautiful woman(just look at her cheekbones), her acting is both intense(Act 1) and poignant(Liebestod) and her singing with its appealing mezzo quality yet with secure top notes soars above the orchestra and shows many subtle shadings of colour.

Sadly the rest of the cast don't live up. Claes Ahnsjo is decent as Melot but nothing especially outstanding. Weikl is well past his prime vocally, doing a lot of barking but not much else. I find his Jokhnaan, Amfortas and Hans Sachs much more subtle and all three of them are much heavier roles than Kurwenal. Lipvosek is commanding dramatically, of the relationships in this production hers and Meier's were by far the most convincing, but sounds strained at times, particularly in Einsam Wachend.

Jon Frederic West I found terrible as Tristan. Of the Tristans I've heard(him, Melchoir, Vickers, Wingassen, Kollo, Heppner, Robert Dean Smith, Jerusalem, Domingo, Vinay), West is my least favourite by a considerable margin. Vocally, he blusters, barks and strains throughout, with no subtlety whatsoever even when he is dying in Act 3, he looks uncomfortable, is oblivious to everyone around him, has no sense of phrasing, diction is unintelligible and there is a lot of idiotic staring going on. Don't get me started on the inane grinning during the Liebestod.

Musically, despite the music being so good and Mehta bringing a sure hand, the orchestral playing never quite matches. I felt no emotion coming out, and they always seemed behind Mehta's beat. The Act 2 duet is nowhere near as erotic or as exciting as it should be. The chorus are decent enough, with the mocking chorus one of the better sung parts of the production. It was the staging and visuals that irked me.

Visually, apart from the picture quality this Tristan is a mess. There are too many close-ups, you can literally see Meier's nostrils at times, and they certainly don't do West any favours. The sets have ugly pastel colours and the couch looked tacky and added nothing. The costumes are equally horrible, especially Isolde and Brangane's. Lighting is okay.

Of the staging, the only one that worked was Brangane with the candles. The rest was obscure and confusing, not to mention that it left a bad taste in the mouth. The Liebestod especially has the worst staging of that scene I've seen, starting with the fact that it doesn't make any sense. The touch at the very end moved me a bit and was a step up from what was seen more, but too obvious and unnecessary. In conclusion, sadly disappointing. Worth seeing for Mehta, Moll and Meier but for a Tristan that will completely engross you watch the Barenboim Bayreuth performance. 5/10 Bethany Cox

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Very close up

8/10
Author: Bob Taylor (bob998@sympatico.ca) from Canada
3 November 2010

My vote is 8/10 for the singing only; the production was a bit of a distraction. Modern dress is OK for many operas, but the risk is falling into the absurd when dealing with mythical subjects like the Tristan saga. The opening act is set aboard a cruise ship: the two lovers drink the magic potion out of cocktail glasses with little umbrellas in them. Only the ecstatic singing and playing kept me from laughing.

Jon Fredric West doesn't have a heroic build, nor does he look like Jon Vickers or Rene Kollo, two great Tristans of the past, but he sings with taste. Waltraud Meier is astonishing: her voice, her body are the Isolde of my dreams (I think of Birgit Nilsson on the 1966 Bayreuth set). Pity that the director used so many tight closeups on the principals--you can almost see Meier's tonsils when she sings the Liebestod.

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Beautiful singing, beautiful orchestration, high quality video

10/10
Author: jbondono from Detroit, Michigan
15 March 2003

This is a modern interpretation of Tristan and Isolde. Some poeple might not like the modern sets and slight changes to the standard story line. But the music is beautifully performed and captured with high quality. The video is well done, with many closeups and interesting shots. There are absolutely no extras on the DVD; only the performance with subtitles, which is a bit disappointing since there is an hour of free space on the second DVD that they could have used for something, but this is a minor complaint. This is a superb performance, and I highly recommend it.

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