Peter Konwitschny's "Tristan und Isolde" proves to refreshingly controversial in its interpretation of the piece. In his hands, the towering Richard Wagner opera becomes an optimistic work about two people who succeed in finding love. It is an exciting approach to this endlessly fascinating opera. A production of the Bayerischen Staatsoper. 241 minutes.
Tristan: Jon Fredric West
King Marke: Kurt Moll
Isolde: Waltraud Meier
Kurwenal: Bernd Weikl
Melot: Claes H. Ahnsjö
Brangäne: Marjana Lipovsek
Conductor: Zubin Mehta
Director: Brian Large
Stage and costume design: Johannes Leiacker
Lighting design: Michael Bauer
Only Wagner could have penned an intimate opera that clocks in at over four hours (not including intermissions). But Tristan und Isolde
, which contains some of the most stirringly emotional music ever composed, is merely a two-character romantic tragedy played out on a tremendously large scale; the ecstatic and prolonged vocal outbursts for its fatally attracted lovers have brought many an accomplished singer to career agony.
In this 1999 presentation from the Munich Opera Festival, Jon Frederic West more than holds his own in the taxing role of Tristan, but it is German soprano Waltraud Meier who triumphs as Isolde. She's a fearless actress, sexy, sullen, resigned, and animated by turns, while vocally, she more than meets Wagner's near-impossible demands: her final "Liebstod" is simply thrilling. Zubin Mehta conducts a controlled, committed orchestral performance, and his accounts of the opera's preludes are marvels of restraint. Peter Konwitschny's kitschy staging does less harm on video than it probably did in person; the bright colors and trendy sets and costumes don't harm the work, but they don't illuminate it either. The sound is full and vivid, while the video looks terrific, helped by director Brian Large's genius for choosing exactly what to show to those watching at home. --Kevin Filipski