Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tristan reflections

Folks --

A number of you have privately expressed some interest in what my retrospective on Tristan recordings might look like once I've heard the new Pappano/Domingo/Stemme set. Accordingly, having now heard this set, I can finally offer a revised version of the overview for those who may still be intrigued:

Hoping this may be useful to a few here and looking forward to any responses either pro or con,




At 11/16/2005 6:53 PM, Anonymous Jeffrey D. Sarver said...

What a nice blogsite! Geoffrey, I've just read your survey of Tristan recordings and find myself agreeing with your assesments, generally, though with one major exception; and that is in regards to the new Pappano Tristan with Domingo.

I went out on a limb and bought that set, against my inner voices yelling "don't do it!". I should have listened.

I listen with a holistic ear; for example, I don't focus on the details of every vocal line and how it is delivered, but rather on the over-all effect of the performers' "take" of the role as a whole. I monitor my guts and not a score in hand.

I found Domingo's Tristan to be patchy and only occassionally believable. Vocally he is not to be criticized. His voice is in amazing condition and he masters this very difficult role with seeming ease, though the advantages of the studio, ideal miking and many short sessions, no doubt helped in the final analysis.

I have just received, gratis from a friend, and listened to a broadcast of last summer's Bayreuth Tristan conducted by Eiji Oue, the man who was so visciously flayed and grilled by the experts on the scene.

I must admit, and I am a pernickety Tristaner, that I found Oue's conducting exciting and tensile, with the long line always in view. Robert Dean Smith is a splendid Tristan, perhaps the finest since the golden days of Melchior, I mean that. Smith reminds me a bit of James King, who did not take on Tristan, and sings the life out of it, in the best sense.

Stemme far surpasses any of her previous Isoldes, and I've now heard her performances from EMI and from the Glyndebourne Festival.

My point in mentioning the Bayreuth event is to point out how much more alive and thrilling the opera came across with a far from well-known conductor and an inexperienced Wagnerian at that.

Pappano' direction is the best thing about the EMI set, even so, sounds too careful and posturing.
All surface effect and glam, as exemplified by the vulgar art work on the box cover... Cornwall as Tara.

I'd like to hear Pappano conduct Tristan live, then I could make a more careful appraisal of his work in this opera.

As for the EMI set as a whole, it is a failure, beyond allowing a grand old showhorse to do his stuff and wow us with his longevity. There are felicities of course; Pape and Stemme are very good and the orchestra play beautifully, but the whole thing sounds stilborn to me. It never grabbed me by the throat, let alone heart, and swept me away as do the old sets by Furtwängler, Karajan (1952) Kleiber (at Bayreuth), Böhm and now, Oue.

I admit to preferring live performance recordings over studio ones when it comes to Wagner. And nothing beats the Bayreuth accoustic, orchestra and chorus.

I'd recommend folks save their pennies and NOT support EMI in the Hollywood Circus they've just released. It's as phoney as they get, IMHO.

Thanks for the blog site!

Jeffrey D. Sarver


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