Wagner - Tristan und Isolde
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Customer Reviews:

  • A superb production - drama and music in harmony
    I have just watched this Tristan and Isolde on DVD. I was not disappointed, Its a sound production with both Kollo and Meier in fine voice. This has to be the definitive filmed version so far. Wonderful stuff!...more info
  • The best
    FINALLY, I'm getting a chance to review this DVD. Having preordered the item before its official release date, which was two months ago, I just received my Tristan und Isolde yesterday. However, I'm not going to shortchange the production itself on account of Amazon's colossal blunder, because this DVD is definitely worth the wait!

    Several other reviewers have already made all the important comments regarding this production, so I just want to add my voice to theirs. I own three DVDs of this opera, and this is the best Tristan und Isolde I have seen, based on the understated, lush compatibility, as well as the dreamlike beauty of the production, and on the consistency of the performances. This one comes closest to what I believe were Wagner's intentions(well, except for the ending) and is definitely worth owning. Probably the highest compliment I can pay it is this: I am eagerly looking forward to watching it again, and how many four hour DVDs can you say that about?

    Rene Kollo in his prime was probably the Tristan of choice at that time, and watching and listening to this it's easy to see why. His voice has all the qualities one expects from a Tristan, beautiful, lyrical, also stentorian, plus he is physically convincing as a young warrior and lover. His expressive face captures all the right moods, from passion to guilt to madness and finally peace. Johanna Meier's Isolde is captivating from her very first note onward, she has a beautiful voice, singing Wagner instead of screaming it. I must say, however, that her rendition of the liebestod is probably the subtlest, most softspoken(softsung?) I have ever heard. Not that it isn't beautiful...I still had goosebumps...but she is so ethereal she is occasionally overpowered by the orchestra. It's a fine reading, and a lovely alternative, just not your typical liebestod in the forceful, passionate manner of Flagstad or Nilsson, or for that matter Eaglen or Polaski, who sing the role of Isolde on the other DVDs of this opera which I own. People familiar with my reviews know that I am an avid champion of Matti Salminen, and nothing about his performance here alters that opinon. He makes King Marke even more of a sympathetic character than usual, with his wounded, soulful voice and countenance. Daniel Barenboim's conducting is somewhat schizophrenic, very slow at times, then, seemingly at the drop of a hat, revved up to the extreme. I enjoyed the juxtapositions very much. And by the way, the orchestra sounds great, despite the tendency to occasionally drown out the singers. With orchestration this powerful, it's probably difficult to resist that urge for a full four hours. After all, the singers are allowed their time in the sun, why shouldn't the orchestra?

    I'd like to conclude with some comments on Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's staging, which is lovely and eerie and dreamlike. Certain effects stand out. For instance, in act two, when Tristan and Isolde act out their long, stirring love duet under a large glimmering tree, the head of the tree is filled with lights that resemble eyes and even faces. I'm not sure if this was intentional, but I personally appreciated the effect, giving the impression that the lovers, even during their moment of supreme bliss, are under constant surveillance. Someone else mentioned how effective it is actually seeing the shepherd as he plays his wounded lament at the opening of act three, and I'd like to second that. Finally, regarding the ending, I found it very effective, at least as a one-time thing. If I were unfamiliar with the opera before watching this, though, I might have assumed Ponnelle's conceit jibes with Wagner's intentions, which it doesn't. I don't want to give too much away, because actually seeing this ending is a breathtaking surprise, I just want to caution first time viewers that this is not concordant with the composer's libretto. It is, however, a lush, fanciful, sad, ultimately beautiful touch, cinematic in fact, even if it does take away from some of the growth we have witnessed in a couple of the key characters, particularly King Marke.

    I didn't intend to go on this long since the other reviewers did such a good job of talking this DVD up; like Wagner, I can't help getting carried away sometimes. Elvis had an album called A Thousand Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong, or something like that. Well, a thousand Tristan und Isolde fans can't be wrong, either. To exercise the very non-Wagnerian practice of being succinct: go for it....more info
  • An inspired production
    This is indeed a very satisfying performance of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. It is a performance filmed on the stage of Bayreuth, but without the audience, in order to give the camera a greater freedom of movement. The staging of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, shows you clearly what a good director could achieve, as opposed to the intolerable nonsense one has so often to put up with some modern productions.
    The prelude depicts a misty shore with a calm sea and some rocks in the water. Mist comes and goes with the music. The picture is almost black and white, until the sun rises and lifts part of the mist to leave us somewhere in the middle of the sea. One may presume the Irish Sea.
    In Act I this mist disappears and we are shown something that resembles a ship but looks more like an island, with a cave and a tree up front. Isolde wears an enormous dress, which almost traps her in and she has to set herself free.
    In Act II we are shown an enormous tree, under which all the action takes place. The tree is lit up differently according to the mood of the Opera and of course there is night to begin with and daylight at the end. There is a wonderful meadow with a spring in front of the tree, which adds to the poetry of the setting.
    In Act III, we have another tree, which is thunderstruck and serves at the centre point of the stage. Everything is as described by Wagner until Isolde's ship arrives. Then you realise that this has not really happened and it is Tristan who in his delirium imagines it all. He watches all the proceedings until Isolde's Liebestod when at the end her image fades away and he dies on the last note of the Opera.
    As to the principals now, Daniel Barenboim conducts the Bayreuth Orchestra very elegantly with a lot of emotion and drama. Johanna Meier sings well and acts reasonably well as Isolde. Her voice is not of the calibre of past great Wagnerian sopranos like Flagstad or Nilsson or even more recently Polaski, but one cannot complain. Rene Kollo as Tristan appears with a face indifferent to the happenings in the Opera. His acting on the whole is on the poor side but his voice is certainly adequate. Hanna Schwarz as Brangane is wonderful as usual, both to listen and to watch. The rest are good with Matti Salminen as King Marke vocally towering above the others.
    The image quality is good for the 80's but perhaps for a filmed performance one might have expected something better. The sound is very good.
    Of the existing productions of Tristan und Isolde on DVD you will be hard pressed to find a better one. The Bohm DVD with Nilsson and Wingassen may sound more promising, but its image quality s terrible. As to the modern productions, if you want to see anything resembling the story that Wagner presented, then forget it!
    Wagner - Tristan und IsoldeWagner - Tristan und Isolde...more info
  • I've Never Heard Better
    I've seen/heard Tristan und Isolde on stage four times, in Italy, in the USA, and twice in Germany. The performance on this DVD is easily the most successful of all; I can hardly imagine a substantive change that would improve it. The sets are evocative and functional. The blocking of the actors, always a pitfall in Wagner stagings, is effective most of the time; there is none of the hideous lumbering that mars other Wagner DVDs. The camera work is excellent; the close-ups especially of Tristan's bleakly despairing face bring emotional impact. The orchestra plays superbly; every tempo, every crescendo seems intentional and apt. The singing is magnificent; no fatigue distorts the voices; Isolde in particular grows in lush musicality until one feels that she is truly as beautiful as Love demands her to be. The recording technology is top-notch. There might be ample reason to question the director's decisions about the reality or unreality of Isolde's arrival at Tristan's death, but this is musically the best Tristan und Isolde available.

    However, watching/hearing Wagner is not unlike watching the Gordo Plate subduct in real time. There are messages rumbling in the profundities but there's no foretelling when they will emerge. Wagner's compositional resources are seldom equal to the demands of his dramatic ideas. The sublime melodic/harmonic moments - and there are sublime moments - are too long separated by spells of tectonic inactivity. In the end, Wagner was a minor composer of major operas. Most viewers will be bored, and wonder what's wrong with their appreciation....more info
  • Small-scaled in several ways
    Johanna Meier's Isolde brings to mind the famous story of Melba's Brunnhilde, her lovely sound inaudible beyond the front rows. Meier's sound is probably less lovely and more audible than Melba's. Hers is a warm, slightly fluttery, lyric voice. She sings accurately and with appealing legato. But she's a fragile waif against a surging orchestra, incapable of showing Isolde's pride, anger, passion, ecstasy. Rene Kollo is more convincing as Tristan. He doesn't sound heroic. But Tristan's not that heroic a character, especially in this production where he's doom-laden from the start. Meier and Kollo both look good, if somewhat haunted.

    The production isn't one of those ingenious resettings. I often like them if they only change the look and preserve the sense. This one retains Wagner's settings, less the castle in Brittany. But it perversely alters the sense at the end. Tristan lives on beyond his death in the stage directions. He has to live so that he can dream Isolde's return and love-death. Ponnelle also used a dream gimmick in his "Dutchman". There it merely framed the story, yet it remained the "Dutchman" story. Here the dream changes the story. This "Tristan" isn't about two souls love-fused so that neither can survive the other's extinction. It's about a melancholy romantic who dreams of his lover as he expires alone.

    ...more info
  • endurance
    Tristan looks like an Elvis impersonator and acts like the tin woodman. Isolde strongly resembles Hillary Clinton, only older. She acts like someone in a silent movie. The set designer wins the booby prize, being the worst of all this clunky performance. In any case, give thanks for the wonderful orchestra led by Daniel Barenboim. It almost makes the DVD version bearable....more info
  • A beautiful, lyrical performance
    This is a beautifully sung and directed performance of one of the greatest of operas. The production perfectly captures the sensuality and "fin de siecle" atmosphere of Wagner's masterpeice. Barenboim expertly paces his orchestra through this demanding score relishing the sublime shifts in Wagner's erotic chromaticism. The singing is also quite good, and one wishes we had a cast today equal to this cast. Rene Kollo is a fine Tristan, with a honeyed lyric voice equal to both the lyric and heroic demnads of the role. Hanna Schwarz was simply one of the best singers of her time, a beautiful woman with a stunningly vibrant voice. Her Brangane certainly ranks among the best. For those who never heard Johanna Meier live, it may be easy to misjudge the power and thrust of her essentially lyric voice from listening to a video. Meier was one of the truly great singers of her era, and sadly, there are few recorded documents of her fine work. She did not have the big PR machine working for her as did some much lesser talented singers of her era. She is a tall, beautiful, elegant woman, incredibly fluid on stage, a far cry from the oversized Isoldes we have become accustomed to today. She radiated feminity in everything she did. I fisrst heard her live in Barber's Vanessa at Spoleto in 1978. She was second only to Steber in this role, and the voice was full, rich and vibrant. I then heard Meier sing the Walkure and Gotterdamrung Brunhildes in Dallas in the mid 1980's. She filled the vast and unresonant Fair Park auditorium easily, and once again she was divinely feminine. The last time I heard Meier was at the Met as the Empress in Frau Ohne Schatten, and she easily ranks among the great exponents of the role. Those who are fortunate to study with her as a teacher undoubtedly gain much from this deeply committed and humble artist....more info
  • Excellent Singing but staging is less interesting
    This is one of those productions that might be better without the video. Although I find no fault with the singing and conducting, the staging and scenery seem to be more about expressing the director's ego than about the opera....more info
  • A Bad End for Tristan -
    Since I agree with most of the positive comments from other writers there's no need for me to repeat them. However I'd like to explain what keeps me from finally endorsing this film. I'm speaking about the final twenty minutes or so where director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle superimposes a contrivance that in my view confuses the viewer and recklessly discards what the composer himself intended as the essence of his work.

    Aside from the opening scene, where Isolde is introduced as marriage chattel ---- looking like the focal point of a maypole, and with a sort of wedding cake on her head --- Ponnelle is on remarkably good behavior. This holds thru the climax of Tristan's final delirium in Act 3 where, in a suicidal gesture, he tears off his bandages to greet the approaching Isolde. So far so good!

    Then surprisingly, instead of Isolde's long-anticipated entrance, what we get is an extreme close up of Tristan's anguished face. Meanwhile we merely hear Isolde's frenzied arrival, off-camera, and that pathetic little whimper Wagner wrote for her when she realizes Tristan has died, a heartbreaking moment totally lost here due to Ponnelle's confusing camera placement. When we finally see Isolde it's in a long shot, with Tristan sitting upright in front of her! Yes, supposedly after he's died! Tristan is then viewed lying down in Isolde's arms, then sitting up again. The bewildered viewer may be wondering if there's a defective disk in the machine!

    After more confusion upon the entrance of others, a standing Isolde sings her Liebestod, an intimate moment shot here at an unorthodox distance and with Tristan, still very much alive, sitting on the ground. During the music's final orchestral bars there's a sudden fade to black. But before the curtain closes the lights come up again on Tristan lying in Kurvenal's arms --- now presumably dead ---- but with no Isolde in sight!

    This is no small matter! Ponnelle's unique staging suggests that everything that happens after Tristan's final fit --- including Isolde's arrival and her famous embrace of death's sweet balm --- is simply a figment of Tristan's feverish brain, a device that scuttles conventional expectation at this point and draws attention instead to a novelty of the stage director. The very camera seems at a loss over how to shoot it, causing all the wrong questions to overtake the viewer. Has Tristan survived his wound? Will he and Isolde not die, but live happily ever after? And what has actually happened to all the other characters?

    Having Isolde and others appear only in Tristan's imagination during the last act unbalances the opera's plot structure. (For one thing, the tragic irony of Marke's actual forgiveness is now meaningless) Most disastrously, it subverts Wagner's expression of the existential death of both lovers as his ultimate solution to the universal problem of suffering-through-longing.

    Having enjoyed everything immensely up to this point, I hoped that familiarity with this novel ending in subsequent viewings might eliminate my negative reaction. And though this did lessen my initial shock and confusion, it failed significantly to removed my dissatisfaction.

    Mr. Ponnelle seems to like operas which allow him to interpret actions as the dreams and imaginings of their characters. I'm all for new takes on old works, even when they're controversial. . But I'm sorry to say that during the critical final moments of this film I find little distinction between what's innovative and what's merely meretricious, and that Wagner's music drama just seems to end badly.

    Wagner - Tristan und Isolde...more info
  • A Gorgeous Tristan
    In spite of the lack of hugh voices that have dominated Tristan in the past, the cast of the Barenboim Tristan reflects the lack of what we would think of as truly Wagnerian. This is also true of Barenboim Ring, John Tomlinson excepted. In fact, the reviewer in the Metropolitan Guide, Jon Alan Conrad, refers to this performance as "Tristan Lite". Even so it is a document to the art of Johanna Meier an undervalued, under used and underrated artist. Ideally the heaviest Wagnerial role she should sung would have been Elsa, Elizabeth Sieglinde and Eva. Having said that she sings a very beautiful lyrica Isolde. The production is magical and the Brangane and Tristan are evenly matched in terms of vocal decibals with the leading lady. Kollo makes a handsome Tristan and is clearly taxed, but not to the detriment of the performance.

    Critics at the time felt that the production would have served Hansel and Gretel, so yes, there is a magical element that is quite beautiful. The camera, however, is unkind to Meier, making her look older than she was. The voice, however, is youthful, beautiful and appropriate given the parameters of this production. Ponnelle's conceit about the third act--Isolde isn't really a presence but appears only in Tristan's imagination so that after the Liebestod Isolde disappears. This is Bayreuth so I suppose a director is expected to bring something different to the table. Ultimately this is a minor point and one that is easily disregarded. Given the competition (the Vickers/Nilsson Orange performance excepted) this is easily the best Tristan in the catalogue. This may change when Opus Arte releases the Glyndebourne production with Stemme but for the nonce this is a performance that is essentially conservative, well sung and acted given the current state of Wagner singing today....more info
  • Second-Best Barenboim/Bayreuth "Tristan" DVD
    Amazon reviewers of this Jean-Pierre Ponnelle "Tristan" are consistently hailing it as the best on DVD. It certainly has its merits and will likely hold the field against its competition in the Amazon catalog for a while. Nonetheless, my personal choice for the finest "Tristan" available on DVD remains Daniel Barenboim's second Bayreuth effort: Heiner Muller's restrained, abstracted, but strangely beautiful and ultimately moving version, with an attractive, passionate pair of lovers in Siegfried Jerusalem and, especially, the beautiful Waltraud Meier, both of them assuming these roles for the first time (Meier's Isolde is definitely not "wasted" here, as one reviewer complained about her appearance in the notorious Peter Konwitschny "yellow sofa" DVD). Unfortunately, for the time being Amazon does not offer this production, and the only DVD version currently available comes with minimal packaging, a slightly soft video image, and, sadly, no subtitles (along with an unbeatable price). If nothing else, though, a comparison of the two productions further underscores the strengths and weaknesses of the Ponnelle.

    That earlier Bayreuth staging definitely appears as the more overtly "romantic," naturalistic (albeit highly stylized), and ultimately conservative (save of course for the famous ending). Ponnelle coaxes committed though not always entirely subtle performances from his principals. Johanna Meier is a formidable vocal artist, if a bit matronly (in purely visual terms, it is hard to escape the impression that she should be the Brangane to Hanna Schwarz's Isolde). Rene Kollo similarly sings with distinction and looks striking all in black, though I don't find him quite as convincing a young warrior and lover as does another reviewer. The aforementioned Hanna Schwarz has long been a favorite of mine, and I was privileged to see one of Matti Salminen's first Met performances of King Marke many years ago. Their presence, along with the assured conducting of Barenboim (though perhaps not quite up to the stature he would later attain in this work), contribute to making this the most recommendable "Tristan" in the Amazon catalog. It would not hurt for prospective buyers to bear in mind, though, that the Muller production is also available, and at a bargain price--if only as a contrast and complement to the Ponnelle....more info
  • A 'Tristan' for the total romantics.
    Although Wagner looked on 'Tristand und Isolde' as a tragedy, there is much to be said for this lushly romantic view of one of the greatest works in the operatic canon.
    Kollo's 'hyper' acting in the last act apart, it is a pleasure to view and Barenboim's early take on the score is the perfect accompaniment. Perhaps it is his unfamiliarity with the score that leads him to forego 'the depths' of the music and simply keep it moving with a romantic gloss totally keeping with Ponnelle's visual concept.
    In Ponnelle's world, there are, apparently, no chairs and so you get the singers either standing or rolling around on the floor (only the shepherd gets to sit on a conveniently shaped tree root) which causes some strain on the singers but nothing that should make anyone interested in this opera hesitate.
    The singing is excellent. Kollo is not the Heltentenor of one's dreams but he's handsome and navigates (and scales down) the vocal line. Meier (an American) is more in the mold of the silver voiced Traubel and her appearance enhances the romance aimed for by the entire production.
    The Prelude is accompanied by a visual of the sea that I could watch again and again. Classical MTV at it's best. Some other of Ponnelle's visual 'stamps' don't quite come off but they are so fleeting (in an opera almost four hours in length) that they hardly matter.
    All the other currently available visual presentations of this opera, with their visual and aural shortcomings, must, I'm afraid, take their places far behind this one for the sheer enjoyment of a magnificent score.
    ...more info
  • Tristan und Isolde Lite
    Having heard and read so much praise I expected much more from the Ponnelle/Barenboim "Tristan und Isolde" from the Bayreuth Festival of 1981. For one thing, the DVD's video quality is extremely disappointing. Darkness is extremely grainy. Even bleeding most of the color out the video, the quality is that of early VHS which is not good.

    Ponnelle's direction and designs are overly quirky and the sets are extremely ugly looking. The opening scene with Isolde on the floor with a cape spreading out covering most of the stage and wearing a ridiculous looking crown (which she rips up after the Narration and Curse) set the tone for most of the balance of the performance, which is a series of misfires better known as opera singers behaving badly. Isolde running about the stage at the beginning of act two in a state of pre-orgasmic ecstasy eventually hitting the ground grinding her body into the ground and simulating having Tristan on top of her is just so silly looking, I couldn't wait for it to pass. Tristan and Isolde looking lovingly at their image in an onstage pond during the Liebestnach was annoying in its reference to their narcissism sapping most of the erotic nature of the duet. I did like Ponnelle's revisionist ending having Isolde disappearing following the Liebestod and after a blackout before the final tableaux. Tristan imagined her return. The lights come up again with Kurvenal holding Tristan's corpse creating a truly heart wrenching scene. The only emotional moment in over four hours. No this is not what Wagner had wanted but after reading Ernest Newman's analysis of the opera, where he goes into great detail about the miserable life Tristan had lead, it made sense.

    I never understood what gave Johanna Meier the impression that she was a dramatic soprano. She was a lovely Mozart and Strauss specialist during her City Opera days, with a voice more suited for Eva and Elsa, here she's swamped for the most part by Isolde's music. She does act the role well but she's around fifty percent deficient in vocal heft. This was the first time I saw Rene Kollo in action and I was less impressed than I thought I would be. Also with a modest voice, he more or less makes up with acting ability what he can't make up in volume. He plays Tristan as a manic depressive. Hanna Schwarz is also small scaled as Braganne. Hermann Becht, who I happen to like very much, was excellent as Kurwenal but the real "Wagnarian" sound was only delivered by Matti Salminen, here in his prime and wonderful as Marke.

    Barenboim's conducting strays to the bombastic side easily swallowing up Meier and Kollo especially in the first portion of the love duet. But there's drive and tension throughout his reading.

    This is not a performance I can see myself going back to often and it may end up on eBay sooner than later. But I will give it at least one more try, now that I know what to expect and what not to expect....more info
  • A Heavenly Tristan
    It's quite remarkable that Daniel Baremboim has three DVD productions of "Tristan und Isolda" to his credit. I don't think any other conductor has been so honored that they have been chosen by Wagner's family or executors of his estate to preside over three productions of Wagner's greatest music drama. I haven't heard the later two productions, so I can't comment on them, and on which is the best of the three, but I can state that the current DVD production for DG is certainly one of the finest of this work either on CD or DVD. The singing of all of the principles is magnificient, and all the others are extremely good. Rene Kollo has a ringing tone with no flab on it, and his physical presence is totally convincing. This is what Tristan, the character, should look like. The sets and costumes are all excellent, too, creating a symbolic world of myth and poetry, because that's what this work is: a great poem on the transcendent powers of love. The surround sound is powerful, and picture quality is very fine. Just watch the atmospheric presentation of the well-known Prelude to Act 1, with its depection of a pre-dawn scene on the coast of Cornwall in some unspecified ancient mythic time, and you're hooked. This is an essential DVD which every music lover should have, even if you already own the CDs with Bohm/Neilson or Furtwangler/Flagstad. The only question is whether one can afford the other two Baremboim versions. This one is certainly heavenly....more info
  • Did Tristan die?
    As it is very hard to match Karajan's Parsifal in music making terms,it is not easy to bypass music of Boehm/Nilsson/Windgassen Tristan dated 1966.In this wonderful DVD we have an excellent orchestra by Baremboim with a wet creamy grandeur which he does not acchieve for instance in Bruckner.Of course J.Meier is not B.Nilsson,but she works. And R. Kollo is also well placed,without his unpleasent trebles,since Tristan is not exactly bel canto.Of course there are some boring moments at Act 3,due to Wagners prolixity ,typical of a time when idle aristocracy could spend seven hours inside Bayreuth Festspielhaus. May be I have a naive brain,however my eyes were not able to distinguish when or if has Tristan died in this stage. Flavio J.Morsch - Brazil...more info