The acclaimed 1995 Bayreuth production by Heiner Müller, conducted by Daniel Barenboim with fire and sensitivity. Siegfried Jerusalem and Waltraud Meier were the Tristan and Isolde of choice throughout the decade, and were... more » at the height of their interpretive powers. Müller and stage designer Erich Wonder have compressed the monumental story into a clear and fascinating geometry of love, creating highly evocative spaces through projections of colors and forms. First DVD release of this memorable performance, in wide-screen format and 5.1 DTS Surround Sound. Staged by Heiner Müller. Filmed in 1995 at the Bayreuth Festival Opera House.« less
"I can't resist the chance to write the first review of this DVD, even though it has not yet been released, and the only version I have seen is a disc in somewhat soft focus and with no subtitles (but an unbeatable price) from Premiere Opera. That said, I will go out on a limb and proclaim this as my favorite "Tristan" DVD.
It's true that this Heiner Muller production faces very strong competition from both the Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and Nikolaus Lehnhoff versions--all three are visually and conceptually striking (Peter Konwitschny's production, probably the most daring of all, has some brilliant moments but is saddled with too many inexplicable, maddening misfires to stand in the first rank). If Amazon someday releases last year's televised La Scala performance directed by Patrice Chereau, which (like the Muller and Ponnelle) features Barenboim conducting and (like the Muller and Konwitschny) offers Waltraud Meier as Isolde, it will most likely join the above big three in the upper echelon.
Like Ponnelle and Lehnhoff, Muller creates an arrestingly beautiful production, though more austere than the other two. The German playwright allegedly tried to take a colder, more clinical view of Wagner's great paean to unfulfilled passion, but his Bayreuth "Tristan" manages to be all the more affecting because of its sober restraint (a restraint very much in keeping, after all, with Wagner's lovers, who spend an entire stolen night of love doing nothing but philosophizing). The production is abstract but visually enticing, featuring a recurring motif of vibrant, luminous squares reminiscent of Rothko's paintings (during the preludes to each of the three acts, the camera slowly pans across a number of thematically related abstract paintings--a far more satisfying visual complement to the music than is found in either the Ponelle or Lehnhoff videos).
Muller is helped immeasurably by his two leads, both assuming their respective roles for the first time. The young Waltraud Meier is an even better actress (and even more beautiful) than the formidable Nina Stemme in the Lehnhoff production (and preferable on both counts to Johanna Meier in the Ponnelle). Some have objected on principle to a mezzo singing Isolde, but I find Meier up to the role's vocal demands, particularly at this relatively early point in her career. And while she apparently didn't enjoy working under Muller's direction, her mesmerizing performance is nonetheless the soul of this production. Siegfried Jerusalem, his hair effectively pulled back in a tight ponytail, seems to me vocally and visually preferable to both Rene Kollo for Ponnelle and John Gambill for Lehnhoff, though he is less varied than either as an actor, particularly in the great test of the wounded knight's Act III delirium.
To touch upon some of the production's more distinctive features . . . Act I takes place in a stark, simple boxlike set in browns and golds, with Isolde's chamber appearing as no more than a recessed section at the front of the raked stage. All the characters wear severe black cassocks, along with odd but strangely arresting clear plastic yokes which signify their enthrallment to the mundane world of obligations and social ties (the lovers remove theirs upon drinking the love potion). The great second act love duet takes place, not in a garden, but amidst rows of armored breastplates, suggesting an armory or a graveyard, and perhaps indicating the soulless uniformity against which the lovers try to carve out their fragile union. The lovers are still in black, but now wear more flowing robes with blue accents that effectively match the colored streaks in their hair. In keeping with Muller's cooler view, the rapturous meeting of the lovers is studiously underplayed and they remain reticent about making actual contact, but nonetheless at key moments the camera closes in on striking, still tableaus of them sitting back to back or in each other's arms. The bleak final act is set in a large yet claustrophic box strewn with rubble, the characters dressed in dirty, ragged coats. It's Wagner by way of Samuel Beckett's "Endgame," a notion brilliantly crystallized in the presence of a blind watchman, evoking the utter futility of Tristan's longing for Isolde. Towards the end of the opera, Muller shows his disdain for Wagner's rather hasty fight sequences by rendering them in what has to be the most perfunctory stage combat ever seen. But Meier's final liebestod, rapturously sung as she stands in a luminous golden gown against a glowing gold square, ends the performance on an image of sublime, ethereal beauty reminiscent of early Italian Renaissance religious iconography.
Having gone on at such length already, I'll conclude this discussion, sit back, and wait to see if other reviewers share my enthusiasm for this wonderful production. "
Best Tristan on DVD
Doug Urquhart | Southport, CT USA | 07/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Wagner's operas are well represented on DVD. There are three excellent Rings, several superb Meistersingers, Parsifals in all flavours, Lohengrins by the ton, and a couple of good Hollanders. Up until now there has only been one Tristan worth watching - the 1983 Bayreuth production conducted by Barenboim and directed by Ponnelle.
I believe that this 1993 Bayreuth production, also conducted by Barenboim, surpasses the earlier recording.
Why? Let's start with the principals.
Meyer and Jerusalem have great stage presence, wonderful voices and, unlike some others I've seen in these roles, are very capable actors. Waltraut Meyer is at her peak - quite frankly, I've never heard her sing as well as she does in this production (and she normally sings very well indeed). Jerusalem sails through the difficult third act, exercising his vocal and acting skills to the full. Barenboim matches the orchestra to the singers with amazing precision - not once did the opera overpower the voices, and not once was there a sense of holding back to let inadequate voices have their chance. This is particularly tricky in Liebestod, where the orchestra has a lot to say, but mustn't drown Isolde. The combination of Meyer, Barenboim, and of course, Bayreuth produced the most perfect Liebestod I've ever heard.
The supporting roles were well played. Konig Marke was sympathetically portrayed by Mattias Holle. Kurvenal and Brangane were excellent.
I suppose I should mention the slightly Eurodaft staging. Some odd decisions here, although they couldn't detract from the gesamtkunstwerk. - The strange plexiglass harnesses worn throughout act 1 (which I imagine symbolized inhibition, since they fell off after the love draught) - The vaguely Chinese costume and scenery (borrowed, I think, by the designer of the Met's current, lacklustre staging) - The brief flash of red light when Tristan and Isolda succumb to the love draught (another idea borrowed by the Met) However, unlike the Met, this was not a static, formalized, passionless performance. Tristan can be the most glacially slow of Wagner's operas if played without conviction, but this production conveyed the opera's essential passion.
This is apparently the first release of this performance in any format. It's quite amazing how a gem like this can lie hidden for fifteen years.
Technicalities; wide screen picture, synthesised DTS 5.1 sound; both superb.
Strongly recommended. Almost as good as a trip to Bayreuth. "
Yet Another Wonderful Tristan
Archie | Ottawa ON Canada | 08/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In July, 2007, I started my review of the Barenboim/Ponnelle Tristan und Isolde with the following: "Tristan Und Isolde is doubtless one of the greatest operas ever written. Unfortunately it has been very badly served by the currently available productions on DVD." I then listed the previous ill-conceived and/or incompetent productions before writing about that production to which I gave 5 stars (and which still remains my favourite).
I then gave 5 stars to the Belohlavek/Lehnhoff Tristan which came out in March and thought that there was an embarasse de richesse. Now, we have yet another excellent (and different) production which, for my taste, has now taken second place.
As with the Barenboim/Ponnelle production (as well as others from Bayreuth), this was recorded on stage, but without an audience. As a result, everything is as intended, very clear and with the performers not fatigued. Some might worry about a possible lack of immediacy, but that is not a problem here.
Barenboim's conducting (and the orchestra) seems better than in his previous DVD. The power and the passion of the score is very much in evidence. The acting and singing of Waltraud Meier and Siegfried Jerusalem (both singing these roles for the first time) are superb and, in my opinion, unsurpassed on DVD, although Johanna Meier certainly is just about as good.
According to the liner notes, the direction was offered to Chereau, but he declined stating: "Tristan cannot be staged, it is a radio play". It was then offered to Heiner Muller. And what came out was, in many respects, very static in action. The set is minimal (a sunken area stage front for Isolde and Brangane with a raised area in back for Tristan and Kurwenal in Act I, rows of breastplates for Act II, and an armchair on ragged crushed stone in Act III. But the colours set the mood and enhance the action (such as it is) with many abstract Rathko-like rectangles for the preludes in the colours of the acts: red, orange and yellow in Act I, dark shades of blue for Act II, and washed out sand-grey for Act III until the Liebestod when Isolde is in silver/gold before a warm coloured backdrop.
But despite the absence of much vigorous action, the body language of the performers makes everything very clear. I was at first puzzled at the lack of physical contact between Tristan and Isolde, particularly during the very erotic/romantic music of Act II. But that surely is what Wagner wrote the opera about -- yearning, frustrating, unconsummated love which can only find fulfillment in death. Tristan, self absorbed, led up to the idea of death while Isolde, Wagner's woman, tried to make contact but had to follow Tristan's lead. Their continual coming close and then separating, hardly touching, added considerably to the tension to the point where I wanted to call out to them to get on with it. The only time there seemed to be any mutual tenderness was finally when Isolde agreed to follow Tristan, just before he allowed himself to be stabbed. Quite disturbing, but a successful execution of a director's concept.
However, when a director uses symbols there can be misinterpretation, particularly for a cross-cultural viewer. He can do what David Alden did in his somewhat bizarre "Tannhauser" and throw in scores hoping that some will be able to be interpreted. But Muller in this spare production has very few. I can understand (I think) the shoulder yokes on (and off) the characters -- but if anyone can come up with a plausible interpretation of he rows of breastplates in Act II, I would be grateful for an explanation. My only other (personal) reservation is that I have never liked the voice of Falk Struckmann. He is younger here (as Kurwenal) than in the other DVD's which I have seen; but he still sounds harsh, cold and dry.
All told, one of the best productions of this great opera. Highly recommended."
A Truly Great Performance
colotes | Union, NJ United States | 08/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a truly great performance of this opera. The singing is superb, especially that of Waltrud Meier, whose facial expressiveness is well caught on this video production. The orchestral playing wonderful and Barenboim's interpretation captures the emotional depth of the music. Highly recommended as a performance.
This issue is offered in both PCM stereo and DTS 5.1. The seemingly total lack of audience noise suggests it was recorded (like the Ponnelle version) without an audience present. The DTS version presents a broader soundstage with more bass, but it takes a while to get used to the reverberant sound of the voices. The PCM version sounds more natural in that respect. There was some inconsistancy in the recorded sound, sometimes sounding closely miked, at other times more distant. But this was not a serious problem.
The video reproduction is in widescreen format. The picture is flawless with no detectable video artifacts and presented in gorgeously reproduced color.
The sets and stage direction for this production are somewhat problematic for me. The booklet notes led me to expect a much more austere production than is actually presented. The Rothko like color sets enhance the music nicely, especially in the first and last acts, and wonderfully in the golden/red glow of the final Liebestod. The set and staging for the second act was, however, a disappointment for me. My first response to the rows of armor was to be reminded of the rows of alien pods in the crashed spaceship from the first Alien movie, an image I haven't been able to erase from my mind. Isolde begins the act holding a pair of shoes in her hand, an image I found distracting and meaningless. The physical interaction between the two singers did not seem as "carefully restricted" as the booklet notes suggested it would be, but I felt that it lacked the intimacy that the music portrays. Wagner's stage directions (in this production ignored) indicating that Tristan should stretch out his cloak to hide Isolde when the lovers are discovered suggest a lot more was going on between the two (wonderfully captured by the music) than can be expected to be shown on a live stage. If you want to see the "real" thing, watch the Tristan sequence in the movie Excalibur.
I would say that the musical interpretation of Levine is somewhat deeper (when I turn off the video) and that the sets of Ponnelle are more to my liking (except for the revisionist ending), but this is the better video all around."
"Tristan and Isolde is one of the most emblematic Operas ever made along the history of the Western music, because among other facts, carves in relief the impossibility to achieve the love as supreme bliss for a long time.
Tristan is the epitome of the noble, valorous, bold and courageous hero who suddenly finds himself literally trapped between his duty and his bliss, between the loyalty and his most intimate desires.
But also, there` s not other Opera that reveals with chilling reality these inner contradictions immersed into the human soul and those unexplored labyrinths of the human physique.
This version reflects and captures with magisterial precision this complex universe of never felt before feelings, the supreme bliss of love against the legal duty that should be kept before a superior authority.
The mesmerizing, original and fabulous stage illustrates and conveys us about this state of existential anguish and febrile desperation about these two lovers. The extraordinary participation of both principal figures - Waltrud Meier and Sigfried Jerusalem plus the enraptured spell of the Orchestra superbly conducted by Daniel Barenboim have become this recording a must have and one of the most treasured musical documents ever recorded.
Don't even doubt or hesitate about if you have to acquire or not this essential DVD. On the contrary, ask yourself if you can live without having it. "