Not the best Tristan I've seen, but one of the better ones on DVD
Tristan Und Isolde is my favourite of Wagner's, who I love, operas. The music is magnificent and the story and characters are equally compelling. For me, this 2007 La Scala Tristan is one of the better productions on DVD. Is it my favourite? Not quite. I do prefer the 1983 and 1995 Bayreuth performances, and I loved the Deborah Voight Met production just as much. The 1974 performances with Nilsson and Vickers may be flawed technically but it is historically important and has a dream cast. This performance is better though I feel than the 2001 Met production, which had some impressive moments such as Rene Pape as King Marke but was problematic, and the pretty poor 1998 performance with Mehta conducting.
Visually, it is very interesting, nothing tacky or ugly in sight. It consists mainly of a large towering wall at the back of the stage, with props moving in and out of the doors(ie. the front of the ship in Act 1). I found this worked wonderfully. The lighting is stark but also very effective, especially in the very haunting and poignant Act 3. The camera work is just as impressive, especially the fade to blacks, however there are a few annoyances such as the constant switching of wide angles and close ups in Act 3 and I also felt that cutting back to Barenboim during the closing bars of the Liebestod took away just slightly from the impact that scene has on me.
Musically, this Tristan is outstanding. The orchestra are big in number, and their lush and powerful playing promises as much. The prelude to Act 1 and Liebestod is sensitive and thought-provoking, the beginning of the Act 2 duet between Tristan and Isolde exciting and somewhat erotic. You can tell also that Tristan Und Isolde is an opera that Daniel Barenboim knows well, mainly because he was responsible for the musical direction of the two best productions of Tristan Und Isolde(that is in my opinion) on DVD. His conducting is commanding and alive to nuances.
Waltraud Meier mayn't be in her very best voice as Isolde(I did find her in more resplendent voice in 1995 and 1998), with some notes that sound a little flat and squally, and perhaps at this stage her singing was more suited to roles like Ortrud. However it is still a musical, characterful and intelligently used voice. Dramatically I cannot fault her, not only is she very attractive(just look at those cheekbones), but she really becomes Isolde, she is enraged, sorrowful, loving, obsessed and genuinely grieved.
Ian Storey I found to be a revelation. He may not quite be among the greatest Tristans(ie. Vickers), but while perhaps not as hefty as one would want in the last act it is a pleasant tone with a nice baritonal timbre at the bottom that doesn't resort to blustering, straining and shouting. On stage, he is heroic and thoughtful, and he and Meier have a very poignant chemistry together, that alone puts this production above the 2001 and especially 1998 performances.
Of the supporting characters, although Brangane is the most interesting(hers and Isolde's relationship is the most well-developed relationship of the opera), the best for me was Matti Salminen's King Marke. His voice is firm and incisive, if just lacking Pape's beauty of tone and Talvela's(on record under Bohm) resonance, and he is dignified and moving, already Marke is not as dull a character as he can be.
Michelle DeYoung is a strong if almost unrecognisable Brangane with the voice is still great, and as Kurwenal Gerd Grochowski is younger than usual and vocally handsome. The rest of the cast are solid. All in all, a very good Tristan and one of the better ones you will find. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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