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DVD, Blu-ray, review: Wagner: Tristan and Isolde – Barenboim (Berlin, 2018 – Tcherniakov – 2 classic Bel Air DVDs)

DVD, Blu-ray, review: Wagner: Tristan and Isolde – Barenboim (Berlin, 2018 – Tcherniakov – 2 classic Bel Air DVDs) – Berlin April 2018. Daniel Barenboim directing this new production of Tristan offers a subtle, profound lesson in direction allusive of an irresistible sincerity that enchants from the start. The opening seizes by the intelligence of the phrasings on the flutes and the strings (stretched, suspended, enigmatic tempi, which lead to the mystery of Act II), so say the ornate horns, of an incredible luminous and twilight color at the same time, full and rich of an ecstatic intoxication and languor, set out like endless questions, bringing out the miracle and the absolute of love (and the annihilation of souls that it produces). With hindsight, the pandemic having deconstructed an entire world and a lost world order, we say to ourselves that this articulated sound, chiselled by a leading Wagnerian chef, in 2018, speaks of a plenitude that will never be reached.

On the scene, the rereading of Cherniakov pulls not without breaking with the orchestral excellence of the pit, towards a realistic theater: modern decorations, where the boat of I is made living room of a young executive trader of the upper middle class and the young sailor, a guest lost in a boozy evening between business men; where Isolde and Brangäne, ambassadors of an explosive emotional tragedy, make an artificial incursion into a context that is too offbeat. Fi of the Middle Ages, of the knights, of this Ireland of the valiant and gentle ladies. Tcherniakov plunges us into an updating imposed by forceps because, whatever the cost, the theatrical grid chosen must match the musical drama and the original situations. Limits of actualizing staging. This lounge is that of a yacht sailing towards the court of King Mark of Cornwall. What a pity that the scenography is so out of phase with the situations; that the decorations rule out any poetry of the legendary and medieval lyre yet inscribed in the heart of this romantic summit of 1865.
Fortunately, the singers follow the conductor and share his concern for precise articulation, expressing in the text all the nuances of allusion and guilty, sickly, depressed connotations. Resentful Isolde (convincing Anja Kampe), forced victim of a deal that shocks her; Brangäne (excellent Ekaterina Gubanova) ready to follow and serve his mistress; their duet is more than convincing. Their complementarity radiates the whole I; in phase with the orchestral carpet, the 2 singers carry the adhesion by this work of accuracy. And we understand that the I is the act that cements Isolde in her immeasurable pain; which exposes Brangäne’s maternal and protective loyalty to the princess destined to be Queen of Cornwall.
On the men’s side, if it has the timbre and the projection of a constant intensity, the Tristan ofAndreas Schager struggles to qualify like his female partners; its vibrato too present here, ends up diluting all the sentences; such affectation in the style softens the design of the yet key character. At 1:20 a.m.: the conflagration of the 2 hearts which recognize each other despite everything [sous l’effet du philtre] at the moment when the homage to king mark resounds on the approach to Cornwall, is nevertheless realized in a liberating intoxication, of a striking musical force.

In this game of pseudo-creative deconstruction and rather hollow theatrical rewriting, not everything is to be thrown away, – each production can reveal its surprises… here at the end of the action. The beginning of the III remains hypnotic thanks to a bare playing close to the Swedish Bergman where in a closed room soon returned by Kurwenal to the light of day, a sick, annihilated but full of hope awaits a bedridden, dying Tristan; it’s less Kurwenal with his indecisive phrasing and uncertain lines (inconstant Boaz Daniel) than the excellent young sailor of Linard Vrielink already listened to in the same role in Aix (find below link to the Aix 2021 review), which underlines this precise work developed under the guidance of the chief goldsmith, who in the pit pursues marvels of musical intentions; chiselling an orchestral fabric full of nuances and connotations finely sewn by infinitely refined instruments [le babil des flûtes et clarinette quand Tristan croit voir Isolde arriver enfin sur les côtes bretonnes] ; where the song of the instruments recalls in each measure the weight and the eloquence of an inescapable past [murmures caressants de la clarinette, du cor jaillissant ondulant, scintillant, melliflu…] which commits the protagonists to their solitude, their own destiny.

The Barenboim Miracle Works. Music of the psyche with powerful and long phrases as suspended and interrogative for which in an ecstatic arioso the song of Tristan (as a hallucinated patient) gains a remarkable intensity: the acting, in spite of failures linked to the length of the role and the extent of his tragic solo, is then staggering.
This tragic wound which drains and dilutes the very essence of the hero, (like the other cursed culprit Amfortas later in Parsifal), is at the heart of the last act. Like a psychoanalysis that arises; the hero at the gates of death, questions his origins, his parents, the nature of the desire that devours him and leads him to death, – immense and sublime vertigo unveiled by the striking direction of Barenboim. Tristan’s thirst for love, dispossessed of Isolde, ends up killing him, before Isolde also dies of love but in the light [ce qui est refusé à Tristan].

CLIC_macaron_2014The conductor’s baton and the singers are the artistic value of this very high-flying Berlin production. Tcherniakov’s vision remains down to earth and theatrically overplayed; rather than elucidating the action, Tcherniakov burdens it with a systematic sickly heaviness [surenchère de vidéos au moment clé de l’action] which ends up denoting with the Wagnerian miracle. Musically, the production is splendid.


DVD, Blu-ray, review: WAGNER: Tristan and Isolde – Barenboim (Berlin, 2018 – Cherniakov – 2 DVDs Bel Air classics). CLASSIQUENEWS CLICK Spring 2022. Release announced: May 27, 2022.




Wagner: Tristan and Isolda
[DVD & Blu-ray]
Opera in three acts, 1865
Music and libretto Richard Wagner (1813-1883)



Tristan: Andreas Schager
King Marke: Stephen Milling
Isola: Anja Kampe
Kurwenal: Boaz Daniel
Melot: Stephan Rugamer
Brangane: Ekaterina Gubanova
A helmsman: Adam Kutny
A shepherd / A young sailor: Linard Vrielink
(read also our review of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, Aix en Provence 2021 with Lianrd Vrielink: stone-lso-london-symphony-orchestra-direction-musicale-simon/ )

English horn: Florian Hanspach-Torkildsen (Act III)

Staatskapelle Berlin | Staatsopernchor Berlin
Daniel Barenboimdirection

Direction and sets: Dmitri Tcherniakov

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