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Wagner;Richard Tristan Und Iso [Import]

Nina Stemme , Robert Gambill , Nikolaus Lehnhoff    NR (Not Rated)   DVD

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From the Contributor

One of the titles in our catalogue Ilike best is Glyndebourne's production of Tristan und Isolde, because it is so solemnly beautiful, evocative and meditative. Some people might interpret it as 'static' but I love how stage director Nikolaus Lehnhoff approaches Wagner's psycho-erotic masterpiece with a deep emotional and philosophical insight that matches the intense performance of the soloists, and conductor Jirí Belohlavek's remarkable exposure of depths in the score that I have never experienced before.

Their combined efforts and Roland Aeschlimann's universal set design call up classical Greek drama for me, a 'space-time-womb' resembling an amphitheatre. Physical gestures are minimal but not overly stylised, and each movement of a hand, or the turn of a head speaks volumes, as the related emotion floats up from the brilliant orchestra. I think it is a tremendously clever as well as moving achievement, focussing on the deep emotions as pure feelings, and not as predictable bodily or theatrical expressions, which, for me, can quite easily turn into pastiche. Nina Stemme is a beautiful Isolde, in turn fragile and furious, and Robert Gambill's Tristan is superbly lyrical and distant, as if he does not belong in this world. I also love the extra feature in which professor Trimborn gives a personal and direct 'lecture' from the piano on the musicological & philosophical backgrounds of Tristan und Isolde; emphasising the Buddhistic depths and the ideals of 'detachment', explaining why true, untainted earthly love is impossible. All in all, this disc set offers a deeply overwhelming experience every time I watch it.


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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another wonderful Tristan March 1 2008
By Archie (Ottawa Canada) - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
After getting the video of the Ponnelle/Barenboim/Johanna Meier "Tristan und Isolde" which was delisted many years ago, and while I was waiting for it to come out on DVD cleaned up with a better quality of sound, I bought other versions. For my taste, I found them all substandard (see my review of the aforementioned "Tristan"). Then it was issued as a DVD and judging from the many positive reviews most people found it as excellent a production as I did.

Now there is an embarasse de richesse because another excellent production has been released -- different, but equally excellent. The Ponnelle is more traditional, with a major twist to the ending; whereas the Lehnhoff is more stylised, but faithful to the stated intention of Wagner.

There is but one set for the three acts, a series of circular and semicircular steps which enclose the stage. But the very imaginative lighting profoundly changes the space and moods. At times it seems very confining, at others it is liberating; at times dark and brooding, at others warm and optimistic. But the very spareness of the set keeps the focus on the what and why of this powerful opera. It is very imaginative and works very well for this production.

Opus Arte, as usual, has served up a technically superlative production with first rate addenda.

I am grateful to Mike Birman for his account of the background to the opera and this production. It saves me from writing something very similar. (Since both of our reviews were written, we have had a correspondence in the "comment" section as we straightened out our mutual misunderstandings. That remains for those interested. He has since changed a bit of his opening background paragraph, so I am changing my response to it.) I now fully agree with his facts and tone of his account. He wrote, "Tristan is the quintessential opera about eros and it is natural to wonder to what degree these romantic entanglements influenced its genesis". I certainly agree, and would like to add another possible example.

Since I referred to the twist in the Ponnelle production ending, and since other commentators in reviewing that production have given it away, as it were, as well as adversely criticised it I feel free to describe it here. In that version, Isolde does not come to Tristan at the end -- she is an hallucination, Tristan's unfulfilled desire. As I wrote in response to that criticism: "It may be different, but in light of Wagner's life at the time he wrote it, perhaps it makes sense. His relationship with Mathilda Weisendonck had broken up. Many commentators have written that this explains the yearning so powerfully represented in the music. Perhaps subconsciously he never expected that Isolde would turn up. I can invision Ponnelle in Heaven saying to Wagner, as Brunnhilde said to Wotan, "I might not have done what you commanded, but I did what you wanted".

I also have no hesitation in giving this production the full five stars. Where I differ is in a matter of taste. Mr. Birman says that this is his favourite DVD of this opera. (Well, as they say on the Canadian East Coast, "Some likes an apple and some likes an onion".) My favourite DVD production remains the Ponnelle/Bareboim/Johanna Meier one. This, despite my finding Rene Pape's King Marke by far the best I have seen. Stemme, Gambill and Karneus all sing extremely powerfully and well, and their acting is also first rate; but their interpretations are not as emotionally nuanced as those of Meier, Kollo and Schwarz -- hence my preference.

To repeat, it is a matter of personal taste. This is a wonderful production in all respects, and it is really unfair to make comparisons -- not that that has stopped me. I am glad to have both and, unlike all the others I unfortunately purchased over the years, I will return to them both -- often. I am grateful to Opus Arte and DGG for these wonderful interpretations.

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PS August 26 2008 I have just seen the Barenboim/Muller Tristan with Waltraud Meier and Siegfried Jerusalem. As a result, for what it is worth, that is now my second choice and this drops to third. The reason is that I have become increasingly less enchanted by Robert Gambill's singing.
71 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To die in order to live: a brilliant performance of Tristan Feb. 27 2008
By Michael Birman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
By Wagner's own written comments, composition of Tristan und Isolde was inspired by his love affair with Mathilde Wesendonck and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Mathilde had married the silk merchant Otto Wesendonck, who was a great admirer of Wagner's music, and after he and Mathilde met the composer in Zurich in 1852, he placed a large cottage on his estate at Wagner's disposal. By 1857, Wagner had become thoroughly enamored with Mathilde. Wagner wrote voluminously and admitted to returning the many favors Otto had done for him by seeking the romantic favors of his wife. Wagner maintained a relationship with Mathilde for some time while composing Tristan. Tristan was composed between 1857 and 1859, premiering 10 June 1865 under the baton of Hans von Bülow in Munich, despite the fact that Wagner was now having an affair with his wife, Cosima. All three wrote extensively about this strange turn of events. Wagner, of course, was still married to his first wife Minna. Tristan is the quintessential opera about eros and it is natural to wonder to what degree these romantic entanglements influenced its genesis. The complexity of Tristan insured that critical opinion was initially less than favorable. Eduard Hanslick, the most influential 19th Century music critic, said that Tristan "reminded him of the old Italian painting of a martyr whose intestines are slowly unwound from his body on a reel." Opinion quickly changed and Tristan has remained in the repertory ever since. These events, all carefully verified as to their factual nature by musicologists, make up some of the historical background to perhaps the single greatest opera, certainly the most influential, of the 19th century. Tristan is without question a brilliant opera and its importance in musical history is without precedent.

The score of Tristan und Isolde has often been called a landmark in the development of Western music. From its opening chord, the famous 'Tristan Chord' f-b-d#-g# which resolves to another dissonant chord, there is a feeling of ambiguous tonality throughout the opera. Techniques used by Wagner were to prove influential in the gradual movement away from tonality that was the hallmark of the 20th Century. Hans von Bulow, who experienced Tristan's creation at close hand, shows how Wagner's contemporaries were aware of the degree to which the opera was the beginning of modern music. In a letter, he wrote 'Nobody had expected Wagner to write such music. It creates a direct connection to late Beethoven .... The musician who still refuses to believe in progress here has no ears!' Every performance of Tristan carries this accumulated historical baggage to some degree.

The 2003 production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff of Tristan und Isolde represents the first introduction of a Wagner opera into the Glyndebourne repertoire. It confronts the historical baggage directly, reducing Tristan's complex web of symbols and meaning into elemental images. The opening act occurs in front of a geometric spiral that represents the womb, a stark clue to the inner-directed and intimate nature of this production. Light and shadow envelop the stage. Settings for the action: ship, garden, castle, are treated as scenic cyphers and are judged as not requiring scenic representation. According to the producer, the setting of the plot is the soul. "The soul's cosmogony can be experienced even before the realities of time and space are neutralised at the opera's end." Tristan is about the conflict between night and meaning. Imprisoned in the dungeon of the world, the only freedom is death. Death is revealed as savior and as love's only safe harbor, and its symbol or sign is night. What passes for life and for meaning is bound to light and the daytime. Tristan occurs somewhere in the interstices between light and darkness. We infer it from Wagner's comments and directions.

This production is brilliant in its simplicity: acting and singing are appropriate in their intimacy, superb in their execution. There are no weak links. Nina Stemme is a wonderful Isolde. Robert Gambill an excellent Tristan. Bo Skovhus as Kurwenal and Rene Pape as King Marke are exemplary. The London Philharmonic play magnificently under Jiri Belohlavek. From top to bottom, this production exhibits intelligence and taste. The Opus Arte presentation is excellent, as well. Six hours of material is spread across three discs. The recording in both PCM stereo and DTS 5.1 surround sound is warmly natural and lifelike, complimenting the production's warmth and intimacy. The enclosed glossy booklet is informative. There are more than two hours of film extras included.

Now my favorite DVD of Tristan, this is a brilliant production that treats its audience with respect. Lovingly produced, it invites repeated viewing as a method of enticing Tristan's meaning from beneath the shroud of darkness. Glyndebourne's inaugural Wagner entry is a profound success. Most strongly recommended.

Mike Birman
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superlative production April 21 2008
By Guillermo Nanez Falcon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
This is one of the most dramatically gripping operas on DVD that I have ever seen. The production from Glyndebourne is conceived to convey the intense drama of this tragic love story visally and musically. The unit set is unusual, a concentric crescent that changes appearance radically with lighting. The effect is highly dramatic. The singers are superb. Nina Stemme is a fierce, angry Isolde in the first act narrative, but then she and Tristan take the potion. WOW. The second act builds beautifully to the love duet and then the discovery of the lovers, in which Rene Pape as King Marke conveys his sense of betrayal with dignity and understanding, a very moving moment. In the final act, Robert Gambill is heartbreaking as the dying Tristan, and the Liebestod is filmed and sung for stunning dramatic impact as the image fades into a pinpoint of light. Katarina Karneus (Brangaena) and Bo Skovhus (Kurwenal) are superb in the important supporting roles. Wagner lovers, do not miss this.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph April 5 2008
By Dr. Fernando Cordova - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This the the third Tristan to appear this year, not too long after the Met's DVD issue. As usual all of these have something very strong going for them,and for fully committed Wagnerians like myself, we take all three and know I will view them repeatedly.
The Glyndebourne production,minimal, is my choice, as it has the capital virtue of not introducing the distracting gimmicks we find in Bayreuth, where Isolde's train in Act 1 is absurd, and the end is controversial. In Barcelona the sets are rather ugly and nonsensical, and only the third act is relatively free of fault.The Met's presentation is silly and King Marke's crown is objectionable.
When it comes to the leads, Nina Stemme as Isolde trumps all her competition. She has a lovely presence, is a subtle actress, with a wonderful lyrical voice. Polaski is a great artist, but her voice has always had some problematic spots, and Johanna Meier, a very fine artist, pales besides these two.
Robert Gambill's Tristan has to fall second to Treleaven, who in the Barcelona performance, is the only Tristan who in spite of some bizarre gestures and vocal inconsistency, has kept my attention fully riveted to him through what can be an interminable Act. Kollo is too expressionless besides these others. Of course, Ben Heppner has the most beautiful voice, but alas, his Isolde!
The supporting cast in all the three sets is excellent, in Barcelona maybe more than that, especially Eric Halfvarson's Marke. Of course Rene Pape has a marvelous voice, but Halfvarson, more human, and motile, is what I prefer.
As I said, Wagnerians will want all these sets.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful "Tristan" Aug. 18 2010
By Alex Craig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD
I have never attended the Glyndebourne Festival, but I have seen a number of its productions on video. I've been impressed by the consistently high standard of singing and conducting, and by productions that are interesting and innovative without going off the deep end. These qualities are certainly apparent in this 2007 "Tristan". This was the first Wagner opera to be staged at Glyndebourne, after the enlargement of the house made it feasible.
The cast is excellent. Nina Stemme is the real thing as Isolde. She sings with strength throughout her range, with a fine legato line and some lovely soft singing. And she has power in reserve for the big moments. She is also a physically attractive woman and an excellent actress. The Tristan is Robert Gambill, who began by singing Mozart and Rossini but a few years back reinvented himself as a Heldenteonr. He sounds pretty convincing, singing with both power and lyricism. I'm not sure I buy his let-it-all-hang-out approach to the third act delirium scene. I've always thought Tristan should show a certain knightly poise even under these conditions, but Gambill sings persuasively, and his stamina is impressive. Unfortunately, he looks rather awkward on stage, making his heroics less convincing. He is not helped by the stringy, greasy-looking wig the costumer inflicted on him; he loses it for the third act, but the buzz-cut look is no great improvement. Katarina Karnéus is a lovely Brangäne, showing off her fine high mezzo-soprano and interacting well with Stemme. Bo Skovhus is a solid, knightly Kurwenal; he conveys his devotion to Tristan without going overboard. I only wish his voice were stonger in the low register, where some notes get lost. René Pape sings Marke's music beautifully and brings out his utter bewilderment at the turn of events. The conductor Jiri Belohlavek was known to me by name, but I'd never heard his work. He is a fine Wagner conductor, fully expressing the passion and sensuality of the music while keeping a firm hand on the long musical line. His only miscalculation is the appearance of Isolde's ship in Act III, where his tempo is simply too fast. The singers are to be congratulated for keeping up! (Listen to Furtwängler's mix of weight and excitement to hear how this passage should be handled.)
The staging is interesting. I think "Tristan" responds better than the other Wagner operas to an abstract production because not much "happens" in this very internal drama. The single set is a sort of spiral structure, which one reviewer compared to a giant slinky. It can evoke any number of things, and the imaginative lighting allows it to do so. The singers sometimes look uncomfortable moving on the curved surfaces, but on the whole I think it works. There are a few odd things in the production; for example, I can't for the life of me figure out what the Shepherd in Act III is supposed to be wearing on his head. The staging falls down in two passages that need realism - the Tristan/Melot duel in Act II and Kurwenal's battle with Marke's retainers in Act III. Both are perfunctory, especially the latter - Kurwenal goes offstage to fight and then returns to die unconvincingly. It seems that the director is so caught up in his "concept" that he can't be bothered with things like swordfights. I did like the final "Liebestod", with light only on Isolde, the other characters having vanished into the darkness that finally consumes Isolde as well - very effective.
Opus Arte provides is usual deluxe presentation, including interesting interviews with cast, conductor, and director, and a rather strange lecture on the musical structure by an elderly repetiteur. He delivers it in impenetrable German (thank heavens for subtitles!), and he plays the musical examples on the piano, very poorly, from a score that looks like it dates from Wagner's time!

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