Saturday 5 July 2008

Tristan and Isolde DVD: Waltraud Meier in the Konwitschny production from Munich

Tristan and Isolde. Bavarian State Opera 1998. Production: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Waltraud Meier (Isolde), Jon Frederic West (Tristan), Kurt Moll (King Marke), Bernd Weikl (Kurwenal), Marjana Lipovsek (Brangäne). Conductor: Zubin Mehta. Further information here.

Peter Konwitschny created this Tristan and Isolde for the Bavarian State Opera (Munich) in 1997 with Waltraud Meier as Isolde and Siegfried Jerusalem as Tristan. Waltraud Meier, thankfully is present on this DVD. Siegfried Jerusalem, unfortunately is not.

While those preferring Tristan in a staging approximating the 1865 Hans von Bülow-conducted Munich world premiere, may not find Konwitschny´s approach to their liking, the controversy of this production is largely superficial. In essence Wagner´s libretto is followed rather closely, at any rate much closer than usual with Konwitschny.

Peter Konwitschny´s vision is rather straight-forward, but nevertheless relies on an audience willing to look beneath the surface with Isolde´s Act 1 ship a modern white cruiser, finding her and Brangaene on deck sipping cocktails beneath umbrellas.

In the second act, Tristan throws in a red sofa on a backdroup of colourful walls for the love duet. This, however, seems an imaginary room, as the action takes place in front of this tableau, surrounded in black, when King Marke arrives.

Tristan then returns to his deserted home, walls crumbling down, a naked bulb from the ceiling, looking at pictures from his childhood. Then Isolde comes. Ultimately they disappear and the opera ends with the image of King Marke and Brangäne standing in front of their coffins.

The most puzzling thing about this DVD is the labeling of the production as one with an "optimistic" ending. It simply does not make sense. I have seen this production in the house, and it is indeed one of the saddest endings to any opera I have seen, the entire Bavarian State Opera paralyzed at the end. As I see it, Tristan and Isolde´s imaginary love in the second act does not hold in reality, in true life they are just plain dead, visualized by Marke and Brangäne standing in front of their coffins. How are we supposed to believe anything else? Unfortunately..

This production indeed is one of the most powerful I have seen live. A not insignificant part of this impression relies on Waltraud Meier´s Isolde.

Act 1: On the ship

Act 2 love duet

The major strength is Waltraud Meier´s mesmerizing Isolde, here with her entire radiance, displaying her immensely varied acting skills as well as effortless throwing off the high Cs. An exceptionally powerful performance, overpowering the vocally stressed as well as dramatically uninteresting Jon Frederic West as Tristan.

Marjana Lipovsek makes a fine Brangäne as does Bernd Weikl as Kurwenal. Kurt Moll has the necessary authority as Marke, though obviously he is just an opera singer pretending to be King Marke.

The performance is well-conducted (by Zubin Mehta), though not at the level of either of Barenboim´s Tristan DVDs from Bayreuth, but nevertheless interesting and with the essential continuous flow.

Waltraud Meier: Liebestod:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Waltraud Meier: 5
Jon Frederic West: 2
Marjana Lipovsek: 4
Bernd Weikl: 4
Kurt Moll: 4

Zubin Mehta: 4
Peter Konwitschny´s production: 4-5

Overall impression: 4-5

Posted on YouTube by perskram


Anonymous said...

For me the ending made sense: The lovers are united in real life, and almost like a joke Konwitschny gives us the two coffins just to satisfy those who demands a werktreue schluss. That is also how I read the funny scene where Kurwenal is carrying Isolde over the doorstep: Sie trag ich herauf, trau meinen Armen.

mostly opera... said...

That´s an interesting point. Konwitschny himself has said: "Tristan and Isolde have died, but they are not dead", and "Tristan and Isolde is a very hopeful piece" "[their death] is not true death, it is a death in the sense of the precondition for a new beginning".

Though I must admit I do not fully understand what exactly he is saying here..

curzon said...

I'm afraid I abslutely loathed this production even allowing for the presence of Meier and Moll. Only the ghastly ROH production was worse in my experience. Best of my experience were Muller at Bayreuth, Lehnhoff at Glyndebourne and Hall (ages ago) at the ROH. The Sellars had wonderful moments (and a stunning cast) but also bits which were so wrongheaded that one was left speechless. But Peter K's production is typical of his deliberately audience-antagonising inartistic work.


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