Peter Konwitschny's "Tristan und Isolde" proves to refreshingly controversial in its interpretation of the piece. In his hands, the towering Richard Wagner opera becomes an optimistic work about two people who succeed in f... more »inding love. It is an exciting approach to this endlessly fascinating opera. A production of the Bayerischen Staatsoper. 241 minutes. Tristan: Jon Fredric West
"There is so much to hate about this insipid production that it is easy to miss what's good about it. Namely, Waltraud Meier. But this great singing actress's fascinating voice and spectacular cheekbones are completely lost in the nonsense of this production. This is an anti-production, which means that just about any concept you can imagine on the stage would be better than this.
The first act opens on the deck of a wacky post-postmodern yacht complete with lounge chairs and cocktails (in frosted glasses with straws -- these will later be used to foist the love potion upon us). Think Miro's drunken nightmare of sad-clown velvet paintings. Isolde's costume couldn't be more distracting. It is supposed to be a wedding dress. This shabby schmatta hangs like a thrift shop special, unaccountably decorated with what appear to be hot-pink felt hearts glued haphazardly to dirty sleeves. But even all this is overcome by Meier's miraculously ferocious singing. As Tristan, on the other hand, West can't sing to save his soul. He plays the knight as a big blustery fratboy as he barks out the music, so strained in some places that one fears for his heart. Until he drinks the potion, he seems to believe that he's about to get lucky. To make matters worse, half his face is covered with shaving cream for most of the act (we are supposed to imagine that Isolde has inconsiderately interrupted his toilette).
The second act begins with more promise, on a big purple and green set with Isolde much more handsomely dressed. A big yellow sofa splotched with more pink hearts noisily appears, however, only to be thrown upside down by the now seriously stressed tenor. It's hard to describe how bad he is. Moreover, when the two start to get busy, climbing all over the couch, he takes off her gown to reveal the absurd 1st act wedding dress again!
The third act sports what the cover calls an "optimistic" ending (!?!?!?!). Meier's passionate Liebestod is marred by a still living Tristan stupidly grinning as she sings it. The last tableau, after they have wandered blissfully off the stage, of two white coffins, comes off as a senseless nod to the meaning of the text.
Marjana Lipovska, as Brangaene, is good actress, but her voice is strained. Kurt Moll's King Mark is stolid and predictable. Weikl is way beyond his prime, and his Kurvenal falls apart shortly after he opens his mouth in the first act.
The good news is, we probably won't have to endure long in a world where this is the only DVD of Tristan. The Met's great recent production with Ben Heppner and Jane Eglan has become available on DVD. Hallelujah."
Agamemnon | 03/02/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I loved it. This is not a traditional production, but, it's not modern, either. It is as if it's set in the end of the 19th century. I find the huge ship in the first act very impressive. It moves forward and backward to change the scenes and it suits the music dramatically. So much things happen on this vassal! Everyone acts convincingly, especially Isolde and Brangaene, maybe some will find West's approach as Tristan in this act a bit "different" than the usual, though, it makes all sense as the story goes on.
The second act is the most innovative of all. I thought the "controversial" sofa was alright. They are noble, they won't just sit down on the ground to spend limited time with each other in a hidden place! Here they sit on the sofa confortably and talk about love at ease. Tristan is a big and strong man, he can carry a sofa anywhere he wants. The scene with the candles is really moving. This scene was never better presented before. Waltraud Meier is especially beautiful in this act, and she is such a natural actress.
The third act is really great. West's acting/singing is stunning. I had no problem with the slide show on the wall as someone criticized before. The slides were already invented in the late 19th century, right? The pictures are nostalgically in sepia and they show the castle, Tristan's childhood and most importantly his pregnant mother. You see the closeup of her as Tristan sings about her dead mother. It's such a powerful moment.
The last scene is electrifying. Meir's interpretation of Mild und Leise is to die for, and her facial expression is something you won't forget. Stunning! The video is so clear and the sound is Dolby Digital 5.1, it's as if she is right in front of you singing this most beautiful song ever written in history."
Watch it for Waltraud!!!
b.mag | New York, NY USA | 07/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm one of those operalovers who's able to disregard props and sets and costumes that don't accord with my ideal vision of the opera. I rolled my eyes at the frosted tropical-cocktail glasses (straws! decorative fruit!) but I was able to get past them. When you have first-rate performers in a production like this, they make the staging and costumes work for them: the ideas come across much better than you'd expect.
And by "first-rate" I refer in the mildest, most neutral, qualitative terms to Meier's brilliantly calibrated (both vocally and emotionally) performance. In my book, she's simply the most complete Isolde ever. Flagstad, too placid temperamentally but plenty of voice, of course. Nilsson, plenty of voice but she can't really convey the tenderer moments of the character, like "Er sah mir in die Augen, sein Elend jammerte mich" etc.. Margaret Price, Martha Mödl, Helga Dernesch, all present facets of Isolde's character but Watraud Meier offers a really encyclopedic Isolde. Ever glance, every gesture, every shade of expression, illumines the character she's singing.
And the singing!!! The whole first act is just magnificent!! Imagine Eaglen or Voigt throwing themselves into Isolde's bitterness and anger to the extent Meier does! That kind of ferocity is just not in their arsenal! Meier is completely in control yet her impassioned outbursts are unhinged, frightening in their intensity. To see her shift gears and fall in love with Tristan so convincingly and with such melting singing is just a hint of the marvels to come in the later acts.
I'm not a big fan of close-ups of singers when their singing strenuously but when the singer's apparatus is as fascinating to look at as Waltraud Meier's, I'm a convert!! I love seeing her really unhinge her jaw and deliver that thrilling focussed sound of hers. And nowhere does she show the slightest signs of strain. She remains ravishingly beautiful, an ecstatic priestess one moment, the next a wounded bird of prey, the next a young girl falling in love, and all sung with such grandeur and such vividly pronounced words. I can scarcely believe this astonishing performance can be contained on two little silver disks. They seem such a mundane pair of objects to hold such a volcanic and magisterial Isolde.
Jon Frederic West is sorely tested by Act III (and who wouldn't be?) and Bernd Weikl can only bark Kurwenal's music. Marjana Lipovsek does surprising well with her ungainly voice until she gets to "Einsam wachend..." where she just doesn't have the technique that would allow her to phrase musically. Kurt Moll makes a sumptuous Marke but doesn't quite tell the story as rivetingly as René Pape but this is Waltraud Meier's show and one well worth watching."
Intensly moving production.
Agamemnon | Netherlands | 02/24/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have to say this is the first production of T&I I saw. The first act dissapointed me very much. I wasn't very happy with the cast either, espesially Jon West. This all faded away as soon as I saw act II, which moved me to tears: The yellow sofa, as if they were sitting in front of the tv. Waltraud's white dress with the red balls, I actually liked it in the second act. Jon West turned out to be a very sympathetic Tristan. And the candles scene took my breath away. I think the black clothing. revealed at the end of the act, and also the T&I stepping of the stage when K. Marke enters the scene are an incredible invention. At the end of Act III they do something similar. I had never percieved the true greatness of Waltraud Meier in the Daniel Barenboim recording, but now it came through laud and clear. She is, to me, the greatest Isolde ever. Better than Birgit Nilsson for Bohm or Martha Modl for Karajan. Offcourse it might also be the supurb quality of DVD video."
Stephen McLeod | 03/24/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I found this production of Wagner's great music drama to be perplexing to the extreme. The direction is really obscure, and it does nothing to highlight the emotion of the drama or the subtleties of the plot. The staging is also unatmospheric and confusing. Meier is a good but slightly under-powered Isolde. West's Tristan is not on the same level, his singing often off-pitch and ugly. Lipvosek is miscast as Brangaene. The other roles are merely adequately taken. The orchestral playing is rather lifeless, too. A rather disappointing production."