WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde
Deutsche Grammophon and Bayreuth have a new contract to record Wagner's comp0lete works as they are presented at the Festival. This is now under the musical direction of Christian Thielemann. Thielemann has a number of fine videos to his credit, particularly a superb Der Freischutz from the Dresden Opera (REVIEW). Wagner's masterpieces have often been butchered in recent years in this theater, particularly the abominable 2005 Tristan directed by Christoph Marthaler'mentioned on this site several years ago (REVIEW). This new production surely is not what the composer intended, but it is infinitely more sensible than most recent productions. Set designers Frank Phillip Schösmann and Matthias Lippert have produced a first act set with different levels, numerous metal rods, staircases and balconies, none of which seem to have anything to do with Wagner. Often characters in the opera, even when not singing, are placed on this metal behemoth, perhaps as if they were observing a disaster. Katharina Wagner was the stage Director and has kept everyone quite busy. A dubious decision is at the end of the opera; Tristan, dead, is lying on a cot, and Isolde sits next to him and pulls him into upright position as she sings the Liebestod. Stupid, to say the least, and distracting. The performance is outstanding. Evelyn Herlitzius, a leading Elektra of our time, is a perfect Isolde, with plenty of power and a warmth usually not associated with the role For me, the biggest surprise was Stephen Gould, who is a magnificent Tristan. His performance as the Emperor in the Salzburg production of Die Frau Ohne Schatten some years ago, was mediocre (REVIEW). Now, he has it all together - this is a Tristan to remember. The cast uniformly is strong, but perhaps the real stars are the conductor and orchestra This is one of the most passionate readings I've ever heard, rivaling the famous 1952 Furtwängler EMI recording. This then is a fine Tristan, but try to overlook the stage stupidities and concentrate on the music itself. Video and audio are state-of-the-art. An intriguing, if disappointing, release.
This latest Faust is a major disappointment primarily because of the design by Stefan Poda who has been called a "visionary" director. Unfortunately his vision has little to do with opera, particularly this grand old staple of the repertory. The barren stage is dominated by what appears to be a huge role of silver electrical duct tape, perhaps 35 ft. wide. This sometimes rises up and down, and on occasion singers enter it. There is no mystery whatever, and at the conclusion, Marguerite does not rise into heave en, she just stands there in the middle of the roll of tape. Male singers are strongest particularly Charles Castronovo, a good-looking tenor who has no difficulty with the demanding role. Ildar Abdrazakov is a fine Devil although his lower range isn't as strong as it sould be, and Vasilij Ladjuk is excellent as Valentin. The women are less satisfactory, with more tremolo than I care to hear. The orchestra and chorus are excellent are the video and audio, but this is not a memorable Faust.
Herbert von Karajan (1908 - 1989) was a towering figure on the musical scene for four decades, music director of the Berlin Philharmonic as well as the Vienna State Opera. He made numerous recordings most of which have been reissues in fine digital transfers. He was challenged only by Leonard Bernstein when it cane to ego, and early in his career wanted to document his immortal performances. This documentary by Wübbolt covers this in some detail, and it is indeed intriguing to watch a young Karajan working. The famed conductor also made many vitros later in his career, and many of these have been reissued. In these, for the most part, we have the opportunity ro watch him conducting with closed eyes—which I prefer not to experience. If you are an admirer of Karajan, this new DVD is fo. Iin addition to the documentary there are concert performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and Suite No. 2 recorded 1967-1968 in color. Video editing is primitive, with super closeups of soloists. Karajan plays the harpsichord continue in both works, and really doesn't do much conducting. This has been issued on regular DVD and Blu Ray; there is no advantage to the Blu Ray as all of the material was recorded decades before digital.
R.E.B. (August 2016)