OP0226. TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, recorded 2004-05, w.Pappano Cond.Royal Opera House Ensemble; Plácido Domingo, Nina Stemme, Mihoko Fujimura, René Pape, Olaf Bär, Jared Holt, Ian Bostridge, Matthew Rose & Rolando Villazón. (E.U.) 3-EMI 58006, Slipcase Edition with Elaborate 267pp Libretto-Brochure. Final ever-so-slightly used copy; Book appears unopened! - 724355800626
“Any major new recording of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE is a big event, and this is bigger than most. As possibly the last studio recording on such a scale, it carries a weight of expectation, something doubled by an assumption which many never believed they’d hear: Plácido Domingo’s Tristan. Of course, the 60-something tenor could never tackle this role onstage now, but it is not often one hears quite such a fantasy interpretation being realised on disc; even after Domingo’s previous EMI releases of Wagnerian scenes, the idea of his recording this masterpiece in full seemed a little far-fetched. The advantage of the recording studio is that his Tristan never seems to tire and he gives an ardent account, characterised by the almost baritonal warmth of his voice. He may swallow the odd word but this is a committed and communicative performance, and he rises to the heights of Act 3.
Even so, it is the conducting of Antonio Pappano and the Isolde of Nina Stemme that truly put this in the highest league. Right from the start of the Prelude, which sounds languid without being really slow, Pappano draws a performance of glowing warmth. He moulds each detail but is never indulgent, with the result that the long spans all fall naturally into place. There is no need to over-stress Pappano’s Italianate credentials, especially not when he conducts such an idiomatic Wagnerian performance, but they show themselves in the way he brings a bel canto quality to this music. This is a work that may have pushed the boundaries of tonality but it also reaches back to the world in which the composer served his operatic apprenticeship. Pappano’s experience of TRISTAN in Brussels helps to make this sound like a ‘lived-in’ performance.
Stemme is everything an Isolde needs to be: singing with radiant grandeur, she is rare in being able to sound sensuous even on the high notes. From her exciting first entry, she captures Isolde’s temperament, and her ‘Liebestod’ is notable for its beauty; her partnership with Domingo makes for a thrilling love duet. It is not often that a Brangäne sounds almost as glamorous, but Mihoko Fujimura sings with a warmly focused and even tone. René Pape is a noble and sonorous Marke but Olaf Bär is less distinctive and occasionally woolly as Kurwenal. As for the cameos, Rolando Villazón’s Sailor is much less impressive than Ian Bostridge’s ethereal and alert Shepherd. Even if this is not a recording to knock its legendary predecessors off their pedestals, it is an important addition to the discography and a stunning TRISTAN on today’s terms. More than that: we’d think ourselves in operatic heaven if a live TRISTAN came close to this today.”