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Wagner - Tristan und Isolde / Mehta, West, Meier, National Theatre Munich

3.4 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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(Apr 10, 2001)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description


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

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Brian Large, Jon Frederic West, Waltraud Meier, Zubin Mehta, Kurt Moll
  • Format: Classical, Color, Dolby, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: German
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: April 10, 2001
  • Run Time: 241 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000059H8H
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #252,634 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
I'm one of those operalovers who's able to disregard props and sets and costumes that don't accord with my ideal vision of the opera. I rolled my eyes at the frosted tropical-cocktail glasses (straws! decorative fruit!) but I was able to get past them. When you have first-rate performers in a production like this, they make the staging and costumes work for them: the ideas come across much better than you'd expect.

And by "first-rate" I refer in the mildest, most neutral, qualitative terms to Meier's brilliantly calibrated (both vocally and emotionally) performance. In my book, she's simply the most complete Isolde ever. Flagstad, too placid temperamentally but plenty of voice, of course. Nilsson, plenty of voice but she can't really convey the tenderer moments of the character, like "Er sah mir in die Augen, sein Elend jammerte mich" etc.. Margaret Price, Martha Mödl, Helga Dernesch, all present facets of Isolde's character but Watraud Meier offers a really encyclopedic Isolde. Ever glance, every gesture, every shade of expression, illumines the character she's singing.

And the singing!!! The whole first act is just magnificent!! Imagine Eaglen or Voigt throwing themselves into Isolde's bitterness and anger to the extent Meier does! That kind of ferocity is just not in their arsenal! Meier is completely in control yet her impassioned outbursts are unhinged, frightening in their intensity. To see her shift gears and fall in love with Tristan so convincingly and with such melting singing is just a hint of the marvels to come in the later acts.

I'm not a big fan of close-ups of singers when their singing strenuously but when the singer's apparatus is as fascinating to look at as Waltraud Meier's, I'm a convert!!
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There is so much to hate about this insipid production that it is easy to miss what's good about it. Namely, Waltraud Meier. But this great singing actress's fascinating voice and spectacular cheekbones are completely lost in the nonsense of this production. This is an anti-production, which means that just about any concept you can imagine on the stage would be better than this.

The first act opens on the deck of a wacky post-postmodern yacht complete with lounge chairs and cocktails (in frosted glasses with straws -- these will later be used to foist the love potion upon us). Think Miro's drunken nightmare of sad-clown velvet paintings. Isolde's costume couldn't be more distracting. It is supposed to be a wedding dress. This shabby schmatta hangs like a thrift shop special, unaccountably decorated with what appear to be hot-pink felt hearts glued haphazardly to dirty sleeves. But even all this is overcome by Meier's miraculously ferocious singing. As Tristan, on the other hand, West can't sing to save his soul. He plays the knight as a big blustery fratboy as he barks out the music, so strained in some places that one fears for his heart. Until he drinks the potion, he seems to believe that he's about to get lucky. To make matters worse, half his face is covered with shaving cream for most of the act (we are supposed to imagine that Isolde has inconsiderately interrupted his toilette).

The second act begins with more promise, on a big purple and green set with Isolde much more handsomely dressed. A big yellow sofa splotched with more pink hearts noisily appears, however, only to be thrown upside down by the now seriously stressed tenor. It's hard to describe how bad he is.
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Format: DVD
My first reaction to viewing this remains the same: "Wow!"

Some will immediately be put off by Peter Konwitschny's production, but if you give it a chance, it works as complete musical theatre. (A few touches could've been left out, e.g., Tristan's face half covered in shaving cream for most of Act I.)

Act I finds Isolde and Brangane on the deck of a faux post-modernish luxury liner, Isolde distraught in a wedding gown and veil, Brangane reclining on a yellow and white chaise lounge sipping cocktails from frosted glass with a crazy straw. Somehow, it all makes sense.

Waltraud Meier is an Isolde of such intensity that I doubt the role has ever been more completely "felt" by any singer. We know this singer has some strain at the top of her voice yet, here, it serves to match the expressivity and intensity of her face and action. Thus, we are treated to an Isolde of such sensuality and grief, one who's entire body registers every note of rage, despair, revenge and longing. When

One of my favorite few seconds in all of opera is the closing of Act I from the moment Kurwenal belts out "Heil, Tristan" and the sailors are "heil"ing all over the place. Bernd Weikl's Kurwenal makes this moment one of the most magical musical highlights of this production. As Tristan and Isolde are separated, Tristan marches on to meet his King, as Brangane pushes her Mistress on, Meier's arm raises to shield her eyes from the vision of her new life. Musically and visually this is tremendous.

Jon Frederic West has some tough moments as Tristan, more often than not we find him barking and at times he looks and sounds like he's going to explode. Nonetheless, he gets most of the notes and at times, especially in the Act II Liebesnacht can sound lovely.
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