Dmitri Tcherniakov’s 2015 production of Wagner’s Parsifal recorded at the Staatsoper in Berlin in 2015 left me emotionally drained as I don’t think I’ve ever been after watching a recording. I can only imagine what it must have been like to experience this live. The combination of the production, exceptional singing and acting and Daniel Barenboim’s conducting is quite exceptional. It’s not going to be easy to unpack it all coherently but here goes…
There may be better video recordings of Tristan und Isolde than Daniel Barenboim and Heiner Müller’s 1995 Bayreuth collaboration but I haven’t seen one. It combines a deeply satisfying production, outstanding conducting and brilliant performances from the principals; Siegfried Jerusalem and Waltraud Meier. The only downside, and it’s not serious, is that, as a 1995 recording, it’s a bit short of the latest and greatest in audio and video quality.
I think it’s only with the final instalment of the Kupfer/Barenboim Ring that its true power is apparent. The first three instalments are very fine but Götterdämmerung is devastating. All the elements that have been progressively introduced are seamlessly combined. Add to that extraordinarily intense performances from Siegfried Jerusalem (Siegfried), Philip Kang (Hagen) and, above all, Anne Evans (Brünnhilde) and one has something very special indeed.
We seem to be in some kind of post apocalyptic wasteland. Mime’s hut looks like a re-purposed storage tank but the bear and the forest are more or less realistic. It’s all very dark and there’s quite a lot of use of pyrotechnics. This is also our first look at Siegfried Jerusalem’s Siegfried and he is very good indeed. He captures the hero’s youthful vigour and arrogance extremely well. There is a strong performance too from a rather manic Graham Clark as Mime and John Tomlinson continues as a reckless and wild Wanderer.
The Kupfer/Barenboim Ring continues very strongly with the second instalment, Die Walküre. It opens in quite a straightforward, more or less realistic way. Hunding’s hall is slightly abstracted with a recognizable tree. It’s quite spare though which creates space for the strong interpersonal dynamics between Siegmund and Sieglinde. Poul Elming is a very physical, almost manic Siegmund and Nadine Secunde’s Sieglinde is almost as physical. It’s all very intense and beautifully sung. Matthias Hölle as Hunding is no slouch either.
The 1991 Bayreuth Ring cycle is one of those productions that has become a historical landmark, as much as Chereau and Boulez’ 1976 effort, or maybe even more so. For many people it is the Ring. So what is it like? The staging is very bare and much reliance is placed on effects like lasers and smoke. It also makes considerable acting and athletic demands on the singers. It is, in many ways, a very modern production for 1991.
I’ve been looking really hard for a video recording of Tristan und Isolde that I felt I could recommend because, frankly, nothing is worse than a badly executed Tristan as those who suffered through the Met HD broadcast a few years ago will know. In the 2007 La Scala recording I have found one I feel confident about. Is it perfect? No. A perfect Tristan is probably beyond mere mortals. I’m never sure whether I find it more astonishing that anyone can sing this music or that a composer might have imagined that he could find people who could. That said, the La Scala recording is very close to an ideal Gesamtkunstwerk.