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Wagner Tristan und Isolde

Tristan: Robert Gambill Isolde: Nina Stemme (pictured) Brangäne Katarina Karnéus Kurwenal: Bo Skovhus King Marke: René Pape
Melot: Stephen Gadd Young Sailor/Shepherd: Timothy Robinson Steersman: Richard Mosley-Evans
The Glyndebourne Chorus London Philharmonic Orchestra Conductor: Jirí Belohlávek
Stage Director: Nikolaus Lehnhoff
Set Design & Lighting: Roland Aeschlimann with Robin Carter

Opus Arte: OA0988D [Glyndebourne August 2007; 3 discs approx 350 Mins, released 01/01/2008]

The Glyndebourne Tristan und Isolde cannot be fairly hailed or dismissed in a single review, and it has been a salutary experience to trawl many of the live performance reviews collected by TheOperaCritic. Closest to my own response was that of the Telegraph.

Whilst awaiting our vocal specialist's reaction to the new DVD and its substantial "extras" an editorial welcome may be not out of order? (MusicalPointers was not vouchsafed an opportunity to review it live; perhaps Glyndebourne may relent for the revival in 2009...)

Not even imperfect Wagnerites, we have been bemused to discover that there are 57 available recordings of Tristan on disc, apart from this one! I have been to see The Ring and Tristan at intervals since the days of Flagstad; usually fidgeting and sometimes dozing during parts of the long Acts. In recent years the last Tristan und Isolde production we saw, with the lovers confined to separate boxes either side of the stage, seemed the silliest (Wernicke ROH Covent Garden 2000).

And we have seen many Wagner operas on DVD, usually before passing them on for review - of the Tristans which came our way, we enjoyed the humour of the West/Meier/Mehta Arthaus version with cocktails and deckchairs on board a cruise ship for Act 1, which says more about us than about the performance... Perhaps, whilst completely lacking the identification with a particular genre of a former editor of mine (a specialist who best liked to write about Wagner, Mahler and Bruckner) accumulated experience may justify a little editorial liberty?

This DVD of Lehnhoff's 2007 revival of Tristan & Isolde captivated and captured me; I have rarely been so engrossed from start to finish with Wagner at his heaviest (like Beecham, I have retained a soft spot for Der Meistersinger). Taken in large sized bites over several days, I felt from the start that Lehnhoff and his colleagues had got the staging and visual values right in its simplicity. Salutary however to learn from the Financial Times (which has only very recently become free to read on the web) that ' - - Lehnhoff learned his craft in the early 1960s - - its inspiration has begun to look old-fashioned' - - [FT August 2007]. Heigh-ho, fashion changes quickly...

Whatever, there was no distraction this time, and I could not take my eyes (or ears) off Nina Stemme for a moment; her every gesture and facial expression conveyed the mood to perfection. One cannot expect comparable charisma from a Heldentenor, and I thought Gambill had quite a hard time from the critics. But I agreed with most of them that with René Pape, the King Marke monologue was not at all the bore I had sometimes found it. The final scene was prepared superbly by Karnéus, Skovhus and Pape and the lighting by Carter and Aeschlimann contributed to as moving an experience of the Liebestod, albeit in one's own home, as I have ever felt in the opera house.

A word about the subtitles. Unlike in the theatre, where looking up from the stage and back is distracting and divides attention, they seemed perfect here ("ECI") - well placed on the screen, fully legible without being over obtrusive, one took them in without having to focus deliberately. I found they made the length of the duets fully acceptable and helped to keep restlessness at bay. (One thought for the future, which has often occurred to me; how much would it take to increase choice to include original language PLUS translation of your choice? I greatly enjoy parallel texts with CDs, and the equivalent - which of course must be optional - could only be a bonus.)

Forgive such a personal indulgence; a serious review of the singing will be added early in January.

Peter Grahame Woolf