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Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde
Actors: Ian Storey, Waltraud Meier, Michelle DeYoung, Gerd Grochowski, Matti Salminen
Director: Patrizia Carmine
Genres: Indie & Art House, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2009     4hr 17min


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Movie Details

Actors: Ian Storey, Waltraud Meier, Michelle DeYoung, Gerd Grochowski, Matti Salminen
Director: Patrizia Carmine
Creator: Richard Wagner
Genres: Indie & Art House, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Musicals & Performing Arts
Studio: Virgin Classics
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 01/13/2009
Original Release Date: 01/01/2009
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2009
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 4hr 17min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 3
SwapaDVD Credits: 3
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: German
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

A truly great Tristan und Isolde
Thomas F. Dillingham | Columbia, Missouri USA | 11/25/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I hope the notation at Amazon that this DVD has been discontinued by the manufacturer is in error. It would be absurd to delete it only weeks after its official release; not only absurd, it would be a travesty, because this DVD set provides a record of an extraordinary and deeply moving performance.

It must be said that the director, Patrice Chereau, offers interpretations at several moments that will seem outlandish or wrong to purists and traditionalists; this is particularly true of the bleeding head of Isolde in her final monologue. But I would urge skeptics to watch, listen, pay attention to the text and the music, and I believe most would agree that Chereau has not "imposed" anything, but has drawn from the essence of Wagner's work some powerful aesthetic and theatrical effects, making this one of the most emotionally wrenching performances of the opera that I have ever seen. Arguments about the details should not distract from the obvious fact that Chereau has produced a performance that is entirely consistent within itself, and consistent with the spirit of Wagner's work (with, perhaps, a heavy dose of Schopenhauer's worldview included).

The principals are wonderful. Gerd Grochowski plays a youthful and smitten Kurwenal, obviously deeply in love with his master and willing to die for him. Michelle DeYoung, made to look far older than her actual years (quite the opposite of her youthful appearance in the Met production), again performs a sympathetic and nurturing Brangaene, but from a different place on the age spectrum. Both sing very well.

Matti Salminen's Marke is brusque, forceful, almost a King Lear in his initial royal autonomy, but staggered and nearly broken as Tristan's betrayal sinks in. Of course, his singing of the role is deeply expressive and authoritative.

Ian Storey may not be the greatest voice to perform Tristan, but his acting and his presence are so totally effective, and his singing is always very fine if not transcendent, that his is definitely one of the best performances of the role that I have seen. The camera gives us much more of his facial expressions, always deeply involved in the moment, than would normally be seen in the theater, and we know that he is an actor constantly inside his character.

Waltraud Meier has sung Isolde many times--this is, I believe, her third performance of the role available on DVD--but this must be her definitive performance. Again, as with Salminen and Storey, her acting is profound, her conception of Isolde empathetic and deeply moving. Even in her most anguished moments, Meier is beautiful and affecting, and her singing, though there are a very few moments when she is a bit flat, is wonderful.

Daniel Barenboim makes the La Scala orchestra sound magnificent, and his pacing of the music and attention to the singers makes this one of the truly great performances available in recorded form.

Again, I hope it is not true that this DVD set has been withdrawn. It should be seen by every lover of this opera."
Magnificent evening at La Scala
Niel Rishoi | Ann Arbor, MI USA | 01/21/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)


This is an overwhelming occasion in nearly every sense, a massive triumph. That we can now have a TRISTAN to be such is no small accomplishment.

First off, the sets, costumes. It is in neo-realistic style, with big stone walls and forbidding grays, blacks and dark colors. The singers are all dressed, refugee-style, long overcoats, shifts. It's not bad, but it still looks too modern (for me) of a tale that's set in "Legendary" times. To be sure, this is far more human, accessible approach than the abstracted remove of the Glyndebourne production; but a more romantic setting is needed for Act 2 (my opinion) to complement the luxuriant, sensual splendor of the central love duet. My number 1 choice for an overall concept in terms of matching mood to music is Ponnelle's, in the 1983 film from Bayreuth. Once you've seen it, you can't forget Johanna Meier and Rene Kollo under that huge, discreetly-dotted-lighted tree, on their knees, facing each other, with a gentle breeze wafting through. Wih this visual, bathed in that sensual music, it exactly captures that lushly romantic, mystical otherworldliness the music asks for.

What makes this production work so well is the direction of Patrice Chereau. Chereau rejected directing Tristan for years, because, as he put it, it was too much like a "radio play" - best heard, not seen. But having accepted it, he very much creates a moving, unstatic drama where there is action and movements as a consequence of the music and words. Everything has a specificity and purpose, and they're all done with unerring dramatic skill and taste. Best of all, Chereau gets performances out of these artists, and there's a real collaboration where the singers don't suffer in sacrifice to the directorial vision. He both abets and frees them, allows them to be natural.

Barenboim's conducting. I cannot authoritatively elaborate about speeds, and the orchestral "interpretation" and such, but for what it's worth, the music sounded drop-dead beautiful to me. The Scala orchestra has never sounded so texturally gorgeous, everything so pristine and brilliant, conversely sonorous when it needs to be. Best of all though, he rarely swamps the singers, and guides them through deftly.

The casting is from strength, all the way down to the secondary roles. Grochowski's Kurwenal is strong-voiced, and physically adept, and he really is a fitting catalyst for Tristan in the third act. Michelle DeYoung's Brangaene is simply outstanding, in a long line of unheralded protaganistas in the role. She sings without any strain, in long-breathed phrases with true musianship and a shining, freely emitted tone. Matti Salminen - here he is, 25 years after being captured in the Ponnelle/Bayreuth film, sounding much the same, barring only a few minor patches of dryness of tone. Amazing. His restrained implacability is as toweringly menacing as ever; yet the hurt and anger come through with a reserve that indicates a seething interior. That we have Pape, the newer Marke, and Salminen, the established veteran, in this role is an unparalleled luxury.

If there is a better matched pair of lovers today than Ian Storey and Waltraud Meier, I haven't seen them yet. Vocally, physically and histrionically, they embody the lovers to the hilt. Simply put, it would be hard to watch Eaglen and Heppner after these two (sorry, but they are so naggingly uncomfortable and restricted).

Storey is a new name to me. He is a big, burly bear of a man, tall, and ruggedly handsome. His masculine bearing is the perfect counterpoint to the lithe, feminine Meier (this is the most attractive, romantic pair you'll see). The voice may divide some. It matches the 'burly" description - a large, baritonal sound. Typical of a lot of "baritonal" Heldentenor-types, it is not especially brilliant or free on top, but neither is it unduly strained. There's a steady flutter to the tonal output, but not a wobble at all; a bit of a grain to it, not meltingly beautiful, but powerful, steady, outpouring. And what an actor. Responsive to Chereau's direction and the sagacity of his leading lady, his performance is like a tidal wave of power and emotion. Storey completely submerges himself into Act 3, where he gives and gives of unspeakable intensity, while never tiring vocally. The camera captures his face, sweating profusely and his raw physicality swept into the drama; talk about immersion. The unflagging energy and passion is almost frightening; it is, all told, an overwhelming portrayal.

The best for last - Meier's Isolde. The best since the previous Meier, Johanna. When I read a decade and a half ago that Meier would be undertaking Isolde, I was extremely doubtful. She was billed as a mezzo when I first heard her; it was in the Barenboim Verdi Requiem recording. I distinctly recall being unconvinced by Meier. At that time, as a mezzo, she was to me unsteady in the middle, and pushed on top. Most mezzos who have sung the Verdi Requiem have fat, solid, substantial middles; Meier did not. I'm lead to believe, then, that Meier was never really a mezzo, but a true soprano. Here as Isolde, her upper middle is far freer and expressive than her lower-middle (but now that sounds better because she's not sitting on it); but her top sounds better to me now than it did years ago. The result of singing Isolde - and others - with a higher teessitura - has freed her voice into the proper category?

Let it stand that pitch and placement wise, there are a few ( and I DO mean literally, 'few') suspect notes. But, given that the percentage rate of failure and trouble that has plagued this role, Meier's assumption is a complete success - triumph, magnificent, to be more specific.

Vocally, she has all the qualifications. A smoothness of emission. The ability to contour phrases. To sing softly without it becoming constricted. An ability to sing forte with a good measure of freedom. The ability to tailor, bend, expand, straighten out the tone according to the color of the words related to the music. To sing a true legato without it being pushed, and to last all night long without developing a crab in the tonal output. Proponents of Leider, Flagstad, Nilsson may argue plausibly that Meier is a more on the lyrical side of dramatic than is ideal; but those ladies ain't around. And Barenboim has thoughtfully given her voice the aural cushioning it needs.

Best of all though, her portrayal is a totality in itself. It is hard to imagine any Isolde so physically convincing, free and unfettered. Long years of performing this role has given her a spontaneity so that every move, every line is organically woven into her interpretation. There is not a false move anywhere, not a moment where she could be said to be floundering. She is a joy to watch. A beautiful woman, she moves like a dancer. This is a singing actress in every sense of the word, neither one taking precedence nor sacrificing the other. How often does one find the "compleat artistry"?

Every facet of isolde is realized, you get the whole gamut, the whole story. The ultimate catharsis and resolution in Meier's extraordinary "Mild und Leise" is almost too much: when she intones those first lines, the sheer radiance of her singing produces something of an intoxicatingly ethereal, almost shocking sense of release. In this context to what has followed before, "Mild und Leise" is a stroke of genius on Wagner's part - a real delaying of gratification if ever there was one. You realize that, excerpted in concert, it has not nearly as much of an emotional wallop than if it caps the opera in toto.

The explosion of applause toward the performers by the Scala audience is a fitting close to a momentous occasion.

What more can one say?
Linda McDougall | Guanajuato, Mexico | 12/21/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I had no trouble finding this DVD on ArchivMusic, and I know that it certainly has NOT been discontinued, so do your research, Amazon!
Adding to the one excellent review would be superfluous - and I can only say that watching the audience response resounded to the Tristan Chord within my own being!
The performance is utterly gripping, heart-wrenching and true to Wagner in every sense. Patrice Chereau has proven, over and over, that he understands Wagner on the deepest level...the stark, surreal nature of his staging leaves only the music and the poetry for us to absorb. Barenboim's love of the composer is always evident - his directing is passionate, and as for the entire company:it's already been said. This must be the definitive version of this exquisite Music/Drama, so close to Wagner's true feelings of love and death...and though Schopenhauer is a bit too evident, the truth of the theme is presented on the emotional level, far beyond the intellectual.
Which is why we cry during the opera, but not while reading the philosopher.

And Waltraud Meier IS Isolde.

Buy it - you'll congratulate yourself forever."
Finest DVD of Tristan und Isolde
The Cultural Observer | 12/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There are very few opera productions that translate well to DVD, and this is one of them. Never mind the fact that the Italians aren't particularly known for their Wagner, or that the Tristan could have been sung by someone else with more experience in the part. In no other DVD production of Tristan und Isolde does the Gesamtkunstwerk of Wagner's central masterpiece leap out of the screen so convincingly as it does here. It's not just the hypnotically flowing music, or Barenboim's insightful maneuvering of the score, the histrionically inspired cast, or Chereau's production that simply defines the color and the turgidity of the work. It is how deftly and efficiently the producer and the conductor bring all these elements together to present one of the most complete and convincing stagings of the opera in its 150-year history.

Barenboim has lived with this score for years, and his mastery of the medium clearly shows in how he adroitly manipulates the orchestra into submitting to his musical will. Here, there is a sense of personal identification that did not quite completely describe him when he filmed his two Tristans in Bayreuth. He connects with the score's metaphysical ideas and presents the masterpiece as a cohesive musical, philosophical, and dramatic package that never sags the way it would in the hands of a lesser conductor or drags the way it does when handed to a cretin who thinks that the only way to conduct Wagner is to make it very slow (Bernstein). I've seen Barenboim conduct Tristan before, and it seems as if he tailors his conception of the score with a particular audience. In Berlin, his Tristan took on the traditional German guise more akin to Furtwängler, while his New York Tristan was characterized by a more cosmopolitan, luxuriant color. This Milan Tristan was prepared with a more Mediterranean feel for the arching, Italianate legato lines that the country's people prefer in their music. The great Kirsten Flagstad said that the works of Wagner, like those of Shakespeare and Goethe, were things that you do not fully understand, but works of art that you can slowly grow into. I would say that this Tristan shows Barenboim achieving one of his best interpretive views of this highly complex masterpiece. His tempi are never definitive, but rather they reflect the mood of the present moment. His Act 1 is a study on orchestral phrasing. Listen to how he partners Meier's intense narrative word for word perfectly, adjusting it as necessary to complete his half of their precisely clocked collaboration. Another highlight? The intense, almost manic and frightening frenzy to which he stirs the orchestra when the ship reaches Cornwall's shore. His Act 2 gives way to tenderness and lyricism that highlights the erotic, sexually tense, and nocturnal nature of the love duet. The harrowing intensity at which he allows the leads to express their irresistible longing upon parting is simply riveting. His Act 3 is no doubt on of the greatest achievements of Wagnerian conducting. It is frightening how Tristan's delirium becomes a display of neurotic longing in Barenboim's very able baton. His Liebestod? Sublime. No words could better describe how powerfully he caps four and a half hours of gorgeous music.

This cast does not define Wagner singing for the ages like their predecessors did before them, but what they lack in heft, power, and stamina they replace with utmost theatricality and sincerity. Waltraud Meier is no Nilsson, Traubel, or Flagstad, but what she had above all those leading ladies is an ability to live through the character's plights. She is Isolde. From the angry, hurt, Medea-like woman in Act 1 to the love stricken creature in Act 2 to the transfigured, ethereal figure in the end, she embodies the role as no other soprano has before or after. She may not be as vocally secure as she was in the 1995 Bayreuth production she and Barenboim did together, but how she has grown into the character! It is also astonishing to listen to her and to realize that her timbre has remained so youthful after more than a decade of singing this extremely demanding role. She is a study in the art of expression.

Ian Storey is less impressive as Tristan, but at least he looks the part and sings passably enough. His voice shows promise if he dedicates more time to developing the stamina and the diction needed to make his phrasing more definitive. He's no Vickers, Windgassen, or Melchior (not to my taste, but everyone seems to like him), but his voice is lovely and his presence is formidable enough for the part.

Matti Salminen was a truly fantastic King Marke. More than a quarter century of Wagner singing has done no damage to his sturdy, indefatigable voice. He is the sole Wagnerian in the cast and makes a strong impression in his monologue. In fact, I would say that besides Rene Pape, he is perhaps the only Marke in the world today who has the ability to bring the gravitas needed to make these parts work.

Gerd Grochowski is exciting and upbeat as Kurwenal. He too has one of the better voices in the cast. Michelle DeYoung is the sole disappointment is this entire venture. Her shrill, wobbly voice is unacceptable for the part of Brangäne. It is unfortunate how much her instrument has digressed, since her voice was once one of the finest things to touch the Mahlerian songs. It is now a shadow of what it once was. Regardless, her Brangäne does little to dent the overall contributions of this cast and team of musicians.

To sum it all up, this is the best DVD incarnation of Tristan, and one that best captures the spirit of the work despite the absence of a traditional Wagnerian cast.