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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tristan und Isolde
Robert Dean Smith – Tristan
Iréne Theorin – Isolde
Michelle Breedt – Brangäne
Robert Holl – König Marke
Jukka Rasilainen – Kurwenal
Ralf Lukas – Melot
Clemens Bieber – A Young Seaman
Arnold Bezuyen – A Shepherd
Martin Snell – A Steersman
Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Peter Schneider
rec. live, 9 August 2009, Bayreuth Festival
OPUS ARTE OACD9033D [4 CDs: 245:06]

I can remember watching a recording of this production and being somewhat put off by the staging, the light show during the opening prelude and the modern staging and dress. It made the star-struck lovers seem more like a frumpy middle-aged couple on a cruise than people passionately in love, especially in their apparent lack of intimacy. They seldom touched each other. It just did not sit well with me, but that was my personal point of view. Even so, I was quite taken with the sound of the production and by strong performances by all the protagonists. The Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra made me very interested in reviewing this four-CD set of Wagner’s masterpiece. I am glad to say that the performance on CD is as good as I remember. One can tell it is a live performance with the odd stage noise and audience participations, but one can forgive all that when the opera is sung so well.

It was evident from the visual performance that the cast was full of very good singing actors. They showed every nuance in the way that they articulated the text, and added expression to their face and bodily movements. One does get a degree of that in this purely audio production. This is clear in the relationship between Tristan and Isolde. Robert Dean Smith is clearly the better singer, and he brings emotion to the role. Iréne Theorin is a little unsteady at times, but through her acting ability her vocal portrayal of the heroine is truly thrilling and engaging. The joint Liebestod in Act 2 and especially Isolde’s solo in Act 3 finale are particularly well sung. Indeed, this is a very strong cast. Michelle Breedt’s Brangäne and Jukka Rasilainen’s Kurwenal are wonderful examples of strong characterisation and delivery. Clemens Bieber’s portrayal of the Young Seaman is marked by some beautiful singing. Robert Holl gives us a König Marke of rare power. The soloists are more than ably backed up by the Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orchestra, who give performances of great insight under the direction of Peter Schneider.

So, this is a well sung and very well acted performance of Tristan und Isolde. It is full of strong characterisation by the cast and chorus. The orchestra joins in in ramping up the tension in the music. The recorded sound of this live performance is good. There are a few extra musical noises, but they do not detract from the quality of the performance. There is no libretto included with the set, which is a shame, but we get a detailed track list and a brief synopsis. It all makes this a very enjoyable set indeed.

Stuart Sillitoe

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