Tristan and Isolde (DVD)
Andreas Schager, Anja Kampe, Ekaterina Gubanova, Boaz Daniel, Stephen Milling, Stephan Rügamer; Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim; real. Dmitri Tcherniakov (Berlin, 2021)
Bel Air Classic DVDs: BAC165; Blu-ray: BAC465 254mins
Recorded at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin in April 2018, Dmitri Tcherniakov’s production is conducted by the company’s general music director, Daniel Barenboim. His contribution is masterful, in particular by the balance and the irreproachable refinement of the orchestral playing and the constant momentum of his finely chiseled interpretation, which rises, if necessary, to the impetuous enthusiasm: nothing of what the we see and hear on stage is up to it.
An often perceptive director, Dmitri Tcherniakov is far from being at his best here. We’re aboard a modern ship, where the mythical elements of the story seem oddly out of place amidst a Cornish courthouse that’s more like a highly competitive business meeting room, with Stephen’s vehement King Marke Milling – the most consistent of directors – the stern CEO. Tcherniakov’s approach is simplistic: he seems to want to diminish – even erase – the profound philosophical and spiritual dimensions of the opera. When Tristan and Isolde recover from the immediate effects of the potion, they just can’t stop laughing.
The performance also underscores how difficult it is to cast the two leads, with neither of the iconic lovers being strong enough from a purely vocal standpoint. Andreas Schager’s Tristan is less than ideally stable, while Anja Kampe’s Isolde is uneven, her bitter fury in Act I too laid back, though more effective later on. Boaz Daniel’s crude Kurwenal and Ekaterina Gubanova’s plain Brangäne are decent enough though, again, understated in Cherniakov’s ineffective view of the piece.