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Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

4.0 3
by Plácido Domingo
Even though the possibility of a complete Tristan und Isolde starring Plácido Domingo has been rumored for years -- especially after he released Wagner Love Duets in 2000 as a kind of test-run -- having the hefty box set in hand still provokes a certain disbelief. After all, complete studio recordings of


Even though the possibility of a complete Tristan und Isolde starring Plácido Domingo has been rumored for years -- especially after he released Wagner Love Duets in 2000 as a kind of test-run -- having the hefty box set in hand still provokes a certain disbelief. After all, complete studio recordings of operas, particularly of demanding ones like Tristan, are increasingly rare, mostly thanks to the high production costs. And no matter how well Domingo is still singing at age 63, is he really up to one of opera's most taxing roles? Well, yes, and with remarkably fine results. Of course, the recording was made under ideal studio circumstances -- no singers in an actual staged performance could sing so forcefully at the outset and still sound fresh four hours later. But regardless, this Tristan is worthy of comparison with any of the opera's classic recordings. This holds both for the strength of the singers -- with luxury casting even in the smaller roles, including Ian Bostridge as the Shepherd and Rolando Villazón (Domingo's heir apparent among young tenors) as the Young Sailor -- and for the overall shaping of the score by Antonio Pappano, probably the most sensitive opera conductor working today. Onstage, bass René Pape has a history of nearly turning the jilted King Marke into this opera's central character, so eloquent and deeply felt is his interpretation. While his colleagues here won't let him steal the show to the same extent, his Marke is one of this recording's major selling points. If the female singers are less well known than their male counterparts, that's not likely to be the case for long: Nina Stemme is a radiant Isolde, her voice brilliant across its range, and as Brangäne, Mihoko Fujimura is every bit her equal, making their Act I scenes together entirely gripping. As for Domingo, from his brash entrances in Act I to his rapturous duet with Stemme in Act II and finally his delirious monologues in Act III, he gives us a fully rounded, impeccably sung portrayal. It's tempting to laud this performance as the culmination of Domingo's career, but on second thought, this indefatigable artist probably has many surprises still in store.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - James Leonard
Remember the Furtwängler "Tristan," the Böhm "Tristan," the Kleiber "Tristan," or any of the other great Tristans of the past 50 years? If you do, the first thing you remember about them is who did the conducting. Does anyone remember the Suthaus "Tristan" or the Windgassen "Tristan" or the Kollo "Tristan"? No: as important as the singers are, they are not nearly as important as the conductor in "Tristan und Isolde." Indeed, it could fairly be said that the great Furtwängler, Böhm, and Kleiber Tristans succeeded even though, in every case, the weakest member of the cast was the tenor. No such charge could be leveled against this "Tristan" because Plácido Domingo is, even in his sixties, the best "Tristan" of the past 50 years. He has the golden tone, the soulful sensitivity, the muscular strength, and, because this is a studio recording made over six weeks, the long-term stamina that Suthaus, Windgassen, and Kollo lacked. If what you're looking for in great "Tristan" is a great Tristan, look no further. Indeed, if what you're looking for is a great male cast, look no further. From Domingo through René Pape to Olaf Bär to Ian Bostridge, they are all easily as good as or better than their competition. But, if what you're looking for in a great "Tristan" is either a great Isolde or a great conductor, keep looking. Nina Stemme is a passionate Isolde but nowhere near in the same league as Domingo, making this a very lopsided "Tristan." More importantly, Antonio Pappano is a decent conductor whose recordings of Italian operas were clean and efficient but little more, and his "Tristan" is at best merely an orchestral backdrop for Domingo and at worst dull and directionless. EMI's studio sound is clear and warm, but naturally favors the singers.
New York Times - Anthony Tommasini
In many ways [Domingo's] performance is a remarkable achievement. Only a tenor of his comprehensive musicianship could have learned this daunting role so thoroughly so late in his career. His singing is, for the most part, burnished, energetic and deeply felt.... During the prolonged Act III scene as the dying Tristan deliriously awaits Isolde's arrival, Mr. Domingo puts everything on the line, shifting between halting intensity and frenzied ardor. His countless admirers will want this recording, a capstone to his staggering discography.
Gramophone - Alan Blyth
In his 60s, Domingo remains a marvel. Indeed, he gives us a performance of Tristan, carefully studied, heroically sung, sympathetically interpreted, that truly crowns his career as a tenor and recording artist.... Even more remarkable is the Isolde of Nina Stemme.... She need fear comparison with none of her predecessors, such is her command of all aspects of the role.... Over all presides the alert and commanding Pappano.... [The recording] now takes its place among the best, introducing listeners to an inspired Isolde and Tristan.
Washington Post - Tim Page
[Domingo's] performance is everything one could have hoped for -- ardent, lyrical, intelligent and astonishingly sweet-toned.... This Tristan will stand as one of Domingo's proudest legacies -- and a challenge to all who undertake the role in the future.... Nina Stemme is a radiant and impassioned heroine.
Time Out New York - Marion Lignana Rosenberg
No Tristan on record surpasses Domingo's total package of tonal beauty, lyrical grace and smoldering sensuality. Nina Stemme, his Isolde, serves up lush sound and vigor aplenty.
Los Angeles Times - Mark Swed
The most impressive and important recording of [Domingo's] not inconsiderable career.... For this "Tristan," he brings all his incomparable experience to bear. He honors his innate Italianate lyricism. At the same time, he exercises his phenomenal curiosity and searches for the most profound dramatic meaning of his every utterance.
The Associated Press - Mike Silverman
A stirring performance.... Domingo is in ideal form as he moves persuasively from melancholy to passion and, finally, to the depths of despair as one of literature's most star-crossed lovers.... Stemme has a shimmering voice that is remarkably even throughout its range, right up to a killer high C.... Pappano's performance is sweeping and fleet, but it never seems rushed and he builds powerfully to the climaxes in each scene.
Stereophile - Richard Lehnert
[January 2006 Recording of the Month] This new one might be the best ever, and for a long time to come.... It is the Tristan I have always wanted to hear.

Product Details

Release Date:
Emi Classics

Related Subjects


  1. Tristan und Isolde, opera, WWV 90  - Richard Wagner  - Ian Bostridge  - Olaf Bär  - Plácido Domingo  - Peter Manning  -  Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus and Orchestra  - René Pape  - Antonio Pappano  -  Royal Opera House Chorus Covent Garden  - Nina Stemme  - Rolando Villazón  - Paul Mitchell  - Paul Mitchell  - Paul Mitchell  - Renato Balsadonna  - Alan Garner  - Mihoko Fujimura  - Jared Holt  - Matthew Rose

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Wagner: Tristan und Isolde 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
if i never hear another recording by placido domingo this one will be my desert island recording.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For all the fine performances and recordings of Wagner's masterpiece opera TRISTAN UND ISOLDE that have mesmerized audiences for years few are as consistently satisfying as this sumptuous version. Though Wagnerites from Shaw onward have found pleasure in dissecting this opera and performances, capitalizing on the myths of how the role of Tristan has driven most tenors mad, that it is nearly impossible to 'match' the perfect Isolde with an equally perfect Tristan, that the star is either the orchestra or the singers, et cetera ad infinitum, few can deny the fact that this opera contains the most magnificent musical passages ever created. The crowning achievement by EMI Classics was to record 'Tristan und Isolde' in the studio perfect acoustic, taking many days to rehearse and record in sections, allowing the singers time for recuperation between the taxing passages so that the final result is the best of the takes, and most important to record for posterity the Tristan of Placido Domingo. Domingo is one of the most intelligent musicians to grace the opera stages in years and he possesses a huge tenor voice more Italianate than Germanic (a timbre Wagner is said to have dreamed for his Tristan), a voice he has used wisely to survey a huge variety of roles, a voice that he has saved so that in his 60s he still has a blossom to his vocal production that is the imitated envy of many of today's young gifted tenors. Here he crowns his extraordinary career with a Tristan that is one for the ages - perfectly sung, infused with emotion and mystery, a magnificent achievement well worth waiting for. The pacing of the orchestral portions so important to this opera is in the capable hands of Antonio Pappano conducting the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Orchestra and Chorus. The sound is rich and full and sweeping and in perfect balance with the singers: Pappano wisely knows when Wagner wanted the orchestra to swell and sing in equal passion with his lovers and also when to retreat into the atmosphere that surrounds this love mystery. Nina Stemme is a young heroic soprano with a beautifully formed and projected lush voice than can sail over the huge Wagner orchestra with ease. She is never less than extraordinary and partners Domingo perfectly, especially in the all-important Act II Love Duet. And when it comes to her moment of majesty in the 'Liebestod' that brings this passionate story to a close, she is staggeringly sensitive and fills the room with ravishing singing. The cast is for the most part first rate (this reviewer for one loves the addition of Ian Bostridge and Rolando Villazon to the small roles, an homage to Domingo's stature), with special kudos to Rene Pape as King Mark. The only weak member is Mihoko Fujimura as Brangane: with the current plethora of dazzlingly gifted mezzo-sopranos available one wonders why this quasi-mezzo of a fairly weak vocal production and acting skills was selected. But that is a minor flaw in what is one of the most moving TRISTAN UND ISOLDE recordings available. This is one of those recordings that is not only historically significant but also deserves a place in those special recordings for that fabled desert isle escape! Grady Harp
Anonymous More than 1 year ago