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DVD Review

Richard Wagner

Tristan und Isolde

  • Robert Gambill (tenor) - Tristan
  • Nina Stemme (soprano) - Isolde
  • Katarina Karnéus (mezzo) - Brangäne
  • Bo Skovhus (baritone) - Kurwenal
  • René Pape (bass) - King Marke
  • Stephen Gadd (baritone) - Melot
  • Timothy Robinson (tenor) - Young sailor/Shepherd
  • Richard Mosley-Evans (bass)
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiří Bĕlohlávek
Stage director - Nikolaus Lehnhoff
Set designer - Roland Aeschlmann
Directed for television by Thomas Grimm
Live - Glyndebourne Opera House, August 2007
Opus Arte OA0988D 3DVDs DTS LPCM Stereo
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Two overriding judgments struck me as I watched and listened to this gripping Glyndebourne production: firstly, this is not only the finest Tristan on DVD but easily among the finest in any medium, from the distant past to the present; secondly, I kept wanting to say that Nina Stemme was stealing the show, but the other singers were so convincing I couldn't in all fairness make that assertion. And so many other aspects of the "show" were so consistently superb that no one person could stand out. Everything works brilliantly here, from Bĕlohlávek's incisive conducting, where tempos always seem perfectly chosen, to the brilliant lighting effects, which draw out visual details from the barren but effective sets (or shall I say, set?) of Roland Aeschlmann.

A word about the set… The whole opera takes place on a circular and semi-circular structure, which possibly represents an egg, the source of life. Freudians would see it as female genitalia, I suppose. In any event, its shape and symbolism work well with this profound opera. Only the busy lighting effects change the view, the atmosphere – and what we see is always imaginative, always powerfully effective.

As suggested above, the singers are uniformly excellent, with Stemme the most convincing Isolde I've heard. Her dramatic skills and sense for nuance seem unerring throughout. Katarina Karnéus is a fine Brangäne even if she is underpowered in a few places in the first act. Robert Gambill's Tristan is also excellent, as is René Pape's King Marke. The playing by the London Philharmonic is accurate and fully committed: I was especially taken by the solo work of the English horn player in the third act, where the "ancient" melody is delivered so hauntingly, so memorably.

The Opus Arte sound reproduction is vivid and powerful throughout and the camera work is excellent. Without doubt, this must be counted among the finest opera DVDs ever issued. It is an essential recording for Wagnerians, and should be taken under consideration by anyone serious about opera. Highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2008, Robert Cummings