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Thread: Wagner's Tristan und Isolde

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    Default Wagner's Tristan und Isolde

    Wagner's Tristan und Isolde is one of the bedrocks of the opera tradition. Wikipedia, of course, has a good article about it.

    But how do you feel about this opera? What do you like or love about it? How does it challenge you?

    Also, feel free to discuss specific recordings, either audio or video. Here is Trout's list, based on his research.

    1. Furtwängler (cond.), Flagstad, Suthaus, Thebom, Fischer-Dieskau, Schock, Greindl, Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus (1952)

    2. Böhm (cond.), Nilsson, Windgassen, Ludwig, Talvela, Waechter, Schreier, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus (1966)

    3. C. Kleiber (cond.), Price, Kollo, Fassbaender, Fischer-Dieskau, Moll, Staatskapelle Dresden, Leipzig Radio Chorus (1982)

    4. Karajan (cond.), Dernesch, Vickers, Ludwig, Berry, Ridderbusch, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Deutschen Oper Berlin Chorus (1972)

    5. Karajan (cond.), Mödl, Vinay, Hotter, Weber, Malaniuk, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus (1952)

    6. Pappano (cond.), Stemme, Domingo, Rose, Fujimura, Bostridge, Bär, Holt, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra & Chorus (2005)

    7. Reiner (cond.), Flagstad, Melchior, Janssen, Kalter, List, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus (1936)

    8. Barenboim (cond.), Meier, Jerusalem, Lipovšek, Struckmann, Salminen, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Berlin State Opera Choir (1995)

    9. Bernstein (cond.), Hofmann, Behrens, Minton, Weikl, Zednik, Moser, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra & Chorus (1981)

    10. Knappertsbusch (cond.), Braun, Treptow, Schöffler, Klose, Frantz, Bavarian State Opera Orchestra & Chorus (1950)

    DVDs:
    1. Barenboim (cond.), Müller (dir.), Jerusalem, Meier, Hölle, Priew, Struckmann, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus (1995)

    2. Barenboim (cond.), Chéreau (dir.), Meier, Storey, DeYoung, Grochowski, Salminen, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro alla Scala (2007)

    3. Bělohlávek (cond.), Lehnhoff (dir.), Stemme, Gambill, Karnéus, Skovhus, Pape, Gadd, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Chorus (2007)

    4. Barenboim (cond.), Ponnelle (dir.), Kollo, Meier, Salminen, Schwarz, Becht, Schunk, Pampuch, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus (1983)
    I will link to some other TC posts and threads that are relevant to this discussion.

    You can see where this work currently ranks compared to others on the Talk Classical Community's Favorite and Most Highly Recommended Works.
    Last edited by science; Dec-03-2018 at 03:43.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    One of the best resources on TC is Trout's blog about recordings of various works that were chosen by the original TC project. Here is his entry on Tristan und Isolde. The photo files don't work for me, but the information is still all there.
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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    Diving and delving into Tristan is opening a can of dragons. When it was first sprung upon the world, few people were ready for it: it sucked them into a vortex of never-before-heard passion, it repulsed them morally, it overcame them and left them fainting or numb or crying the night away. Wagner's own prediction that, properly performed, it would drive people insane proved near enough to the truth, and it may be perversely fortunate that the opera is nearly impossible to perform properly. But the first tenor to sing the part of Tristan took sick soon after the premiere and died, and it was said, romantically, that Tristan had killed him (it was actually a rheumatic condition).

    Wagner stated his intention for his opera thus: "Never in my life having enjoyed the true happiness of love I shall erect a memorial to this loveliest of all dreams in which, from the first to the last, love shall, for once, find utter repletion. I have devised in my mind a Tristan und Isolde, the simplest, yet most full-blooded musical conception imaginable, and with the ‘black flag’ that waves at the end I shall cover myself over – to die." He can be said to have fulfilled his intentions - though, fortunately, he didn't die - but the true nature of the opera, and whether it represents the "loveliest of all dreams" or a nightmare which we should hope never comes true for any of us, is forever up for debate.

    Is Tristan more a romantic tragedy, an exaltation of sexual passion, a religious drama, or something else, something unclassifiable? That depends on how we weight the many facets of its story, its text, and its music. But the music, I think, is the key, as it should be in opera, and it's no exaggeration to say that there was no precedent in music for the sheer unrelenting intensity of this score. No one, including Wagner himself, has tried to challenge it in this respect; it remains sui generis, the archetype and sole representative of what has been called the "theater of passion." As such it's one of the highest and most representative achievements of the Western artistic mind, a point of reference not only for music but for our culture. It represents, precisely, the epitome and crisis of Romanticism.

    I hesitate to say that I love Tristan und isolde. For me it's too much of a muchness to inspire an emotion I'd call "love," except in moments when I'm feeling young, foolish and brave (or remembering when I really was). Of Wagner's operas I can love Die Walkure, or Die Meistersinger, or Parsifal, works which touch things in my soul which, however deep or even, at times, too deep for comfort, have remained with me, guarded and cherished, over the years. But the dark, unspeakable passion and self-rending catastrophe of Tristan are too much and too unfamiliar (or thankfully forgotten) for me to cherish, except at certain moments when the desperate storm of passion relents and Wagner lets us glimpse the heartbreaking, transcendental beauty to which the whole ordeal aspires and which Isolde reaches at the end.

    I can, at least, get through a performance of the opera with my mind intact. But a great performance still has for many people the kind of fearful power that Wagner imagined it would. As Nietzsche said: "The world is poor for him who has never been sick enough for this voluptuousness of hell."
    Last edited by Woodduck; Dec-03-2018 at 06:24.

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    The prelude is superb, but what follows sounds much like film music - merely playing a supporting role with the focus taken by the stage action.

    Getting through this work is a gruelling ordeal for me.

    Surprised to see so few members posting here.

    Have been listing to:
    Barenboim (cond.), Ponnelle (dir.), Kollo, Meier, Salminen, Schwarz, Becht, Schunk, Pampuch, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus (1983)
    Last edited by janxharris; Oct-23-2019 at 09:06.

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    Quote Originally Posted by janxharris View Post
    The prelude is superb, but what follows sounds much like film music - merely playing a supporting role with the focus taken by the stage action.

    Getting through this work is a gruelling ordeal for me.

    Surprised to see so few members posting here.

    Have been listing to:
    Barenboim (cond.), Ponnelle (dir.), Kollo, Meier, Salminen, Schwarz, Becht, Schunk, Pampuch, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus (1983)
    Stage action? There is little or no stage action. Why the opera is best listened to as an aural experience rather than watching two mature singers (they have too be) trying to play two young lovers. It is a masterpiece but once I admire rather than love.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Stage action? There is little or no stage action. Why the opera is best listened to as an aural experience rather than watching two mature singers (they have too be) trying to play two young lovers. It is a masterpiece but once I admire rather than love.
    Indeed - little 'action' as such - should have referred the dialogue.

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    To the list above, I can add the 1976 Bayreuth recording of Carlos Kleiber, which is quite a revelation. With the singers Wenkoff, Ligendza, Minton, McIntyre & Ridderbusch, I don't think you will ever hear a more electrifying interpretation. The DG studio recording is already very good, but this live recording is, well, alive!! And the sound is great. It is for sale at opera depot.

    I also think this opera is fit for scenic performances. I once saw a live scenic performance conducted by Gergiev with video art on a huge screen by Bill Viola. This was a very convincing performance and might also work well for other Wagner opera's.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Stage action? There is little or no stage action. Why the opera is best listened to as an aural experience rather than watching two mature singers (they have too be) trying to play two young lovers. It is a masterpiece but once I admire rather than love.
    Thanks - already a better experience for me.

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    This isn't my favourite of Wagner's operas and I much prefer the Ring and Parsifal. However, there are some sublime moments throughout. An interesting aspect of the opera is how it can be viewed as a backwards telling of how many people experience love in real life. (In the opera the couple start by hating each other and finish so in love they are prepared to die for the other!)

    Rather than provide an insight into the work I would like to raise a question. What type of love does it depict? Is it youthful passion or some sort of mystical bond that can't be broken? It doesn't seem to me to be a mature, developed love with equal elements of emotion, reason and mysticism. What if the two protagonists had run away and lived together for twenty years, what would their relationship look like then?

    N.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Diving and delving into Tristan is opening a can of dragons. When it was first sprung upon the world, few people were ready for it: it sucked them into a vortex of never-before-heard passion, it repulsed them morally, it overcame them and left them fainting or numb or crying the night away. Wagner's own prediction that, properly performed, it would drive people insane proved near enough to the truth, and it may be perversely fortunate that the opera is nearly impossible to perform properly. But the first tenor to sing the part of Tristan took sick soon after the premiere and died, and it was said, romantically, that Tristan had killed him (it was actually a rheumatic condition).

    Wagner stated his intention for his opera thus: "Never in my life having enjoyed the true happiness of love I shall erect a memorial to this loveliest of all dreams in which, from the first to the last, love shall, for once, find utter repletion. I have devised in my mind a Tristan und Isolde, the simplest, yet most full-blooded musical conception imaginable, and with the ‘black flag’ that waves at the end I shall cover myself over – to die." He can be said to have fulfilled his intentions - though, fortunately, he didn't die - but the true nature of the opera, and whether it represents the "loveliest of all dreams" or a nightmare which we should hope never comes true for any of us, is forever up for debate.

    Is Tristan more a romantic tragedy, an exaltation of sexual passion, a religious drama, or something else, something unclassifiable? That depends on how we weight the many facets of its story, its text, and its music. But the music, I think, is the key, as it should be in opera, and it's no exaggeration to say that there was no precedent in music for the sheer unrelenting intensity of this score. No one, including Wagner himself, has tried to challenge it in this respect; it remains sui generis, the archetype and sole representative of what has been called the "theater of passion." As such it's one of the highest and most representative achievements of the Western artistic mind, a point of reference not only for music but for our culture. It represents, precisely, the epitome and crisis of Romanticism.

    I hesitate to say that I love Tristan und isolde. For me it's too much of a muchness to inspire an emotion I'd call "love," except in moments when I'm feeling young, foolish and brave (or remembering when I really was). Of Wagner's operas I can love Die Walkure, or Die Meistersinger, or Parsifal, works which touch things in my soul which, however deep or even, at times, too deep for comfort, have remained with me, guarded and cherished, over the years. But the dark, unspeakable passion and self-rending catastrophe of Tristan are too much and too unfamiliar (or thankfully forgotten) for me to cherish, except at certain moments when the desperate storm of passion relents and Wagner lets us glimpse the heartbreaking, transcendental beauty to which the whole ordeal aspires and which Isolde reaches at the end.

    I can, at least, get through a performance of the opera with my mind intact. But a great performance still has for many people the kind of fearful power that Wagner imagined it would. As Nietzsche said: "The world is poor for him who has never been sick enough for this voluptuousness of hell."
    Wow, that's really over-the-top!

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Wow, that's really over-the-top!
    I know, right? It's almost as if Tristan und Isolde were some kind of epochal landmark in the history of Western culture, or something!
    Alan

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    Quote Originally Posted by NLAdriaan View Post
    To the list above, I can add the 1976 Bayreuth recording of Carlos Kleiber, which is quite a revelation. With the singers Wenkoff, Ligendza, Minton, McIntyre & Ridderbusch, I don't think you will ever hear a more electrifying interpretation. The DG studio recording is already very good, but this live recording is, well, alive!! And the sound is great. It is for sale at opera depot.
    I recently acquired this recording, and wholeheartedly second your recommendation. Already near the top of my list.
    Alan

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Wow, that's really over-the-top!
    A very good description of the opera.

    I once gave the Bayreuth 1966 recording to a Mahler-loving acquaintance who hadn't yet explored Wagner, and he told me that when he first tried to listen to it he quickly found its intensity frightening and had to turn it off. He got the point. So did Clara Schumann who, proper lady that she was, said that the opera was the most disgusting thing she had ever seen or heard in her entire life. That has to be my favorite Tristan story.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte View Post
    ... What if the two protagonists had run away and lived together for twenty years, what would their relationship look like then?
    It depends on how long the effects of the love potion last.
    "All of Italian opera can be heard in [Bellini's] "Ah! non creda [mirarti]."
    --Renata Scotto in "Scotto, More Than a DIva."

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    7. Reiner (cond.), Flagstad, Melchior, Janssen, Kalter, List, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus (1936)
    This is easily my favorite recording, and the one that made me really start to get what the opera, even Wagner was about. Before hearing Melchior and Flagstad, I hated Wagner's vocal writing. I still understand why Tchaikovsky was frustrated and said Wagner gave the singer a third French horn part instead of a vocal line... but I get it much more now after hearing those great singers.

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