Celine | Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada | 09/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was riven with intellectual, as well as erotic longing, during Act III. It dumbfounded me that I could so long for a man who was a creature of imagination conjured by the collaboration of Richard Wagner and Ramon Vinay. The colossal suffering of Tristan, as essayed by Vinay, so moved my womanly heart... Also, Varnay, often eclipsed by Nilsson, was a voluptuous Isolde. She was able to summon the steel for the warrior Brunnhilde, but she was also able to soften into the femininity of Isolde and the Brunnhilde of Gotterdammerung. Her "mezzo"-touched dramatic soprano imbued a warmth and luxury to these roles. In my opinion, this recording ties with the Flagstad/Suthaus recording as the greatest of all Tristan und Isolde 's on record."
The Cultural Observer | 09/19/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The only recording available of the great Astrid Varnay as Isolde. Buy it if you are a Wagnerian!"
A Study in Transfiguration and Apotheosis
The Cultural Observer | 01/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When recordings of Tristan are mentioned, Astrid Varnay is a name that is mentioned in the great roster of Isoldes who make their careers on the role. However, because her discography is so short in terms of studio recordings, only the select few who search far and wide for her recordings to get to listen to her great reading of this very complex role. Her dark voice is also perfect for the role, the dark timbre seductive, the colours expressive, and the power excellent in contrasting the dynamics Herr Wagner wanted for a great Isolde...and a great one she truly is! Her first act is a combination of frustration, rage, pain, hurt, blinded love, and nobility. Her uttering of the phrase "Er sah mir in die Augen" is unrivaled, even by the Isoldes who have committed their interpretations in the larger labels. In many aspects, she betters her colleagues Martha Mödl and Birgit Nilsson in her projection of the first act Isolde. While Birgit Nilsson had a voice of steel, she hardly projected the love that Isolde felt while huring after Tristan's mockery. Martha Mödl, a thespian of the highest order, was a revelation in the role of Isolde, but she lacked the vocal security of Varnay, an aspect which is very important in perhaps what is the apex of the dramatic soprano repertoire. The second act is where Varnay truly shines in her lucid, languid, almost erotic reading of Isolde. Nilsson and Mödl do not have the requisite warmth which makes Isolde so seductive, and Varnay is a singer who has all the intelligence and the vocal prowess to make her Isolde a femme fatale in the truest sense of the word. Although Isolde does not appear much in the third Act, Varnay what music she has and the closing Liebestod with passion, pathos, and transfiguration...truly one of the few singers to achieve apotheosis in a role made legendary by great singers like Birgit Nilsson, Martha Mödl, Kirsten Flagstad, Helen Traubel, Gertrude Grob-Prandl, Helga Dernesch, and recently, Christine Brewer. This truly is one of the great Isoldes.
But of course, this opera isn't called Tristan und Isolde for the Isolde alone. What makes the opera so difficult to perform are the many long exposed moments where the lead singers dominate through the four to five long hours they are onstage. The other most difficult role in this opera goes to Tristan, naturally, and Varnay is fortunate to have Ramon Vinay as her tenor. Ramon Vinay has a timbre touched with that tinge of baritonal darkness needed for Tristan. Only a few heldentenors today have the voice needed to sing Tristan, one of them being Ben Heppner, and they only had half the voice that some of the greatest Tristans such as Vickers had. Vickers, Melchior, and Windgassen are usually mentioned in history books as the greatest Tristans of all time, but history neglected the work of Ramon Vinay, a Chilean tenor with a sweet, dark voice with carrying power and an erotic timbre to make the role work. He is loving and erotic in Act II, and almost has this sexually-tinted angst in his voice in Act III. Definitely a great by-product of Wieland Wagner's excellent training. Gustav Neidlinger plays his sidekick, Kurwenal, and it is quite interesting to hear what one of the greatest Alberichs in recordings does with this role. He makes a rather sarcastic, intelligent interpretation of the role, and I find it rather endearing to see him in this role. Brangäne is played by Ira Malaniuk, a Bayreuth regular during the Neo-Bayreuth years who played the mezzo roles from Fricka to Waltraute to the Rheintöchters and Norns. A great artist in a role that wouldn't remove the memories of Christa Ludwig or Kerstin Meyer, but an excellent artist nonetheless. Perhaps one the most memorable singers who makes an appearance in this recording is the König Marke of Ludwig Weber. He has the vocal weight, the authority, and the sensitivity to give his monologue the necessary gravitas and the attention-holding pathos to make listeners hear what the King has to say. In short, he is noble, and he isn't boring.
This performance is recorded by Eugene Jochum, known by many collectors as a superior Brucknerian. His long, arching melodies are sustained with the perfect combination of tension and lyricism which make him such a compelling Wagner conductor in the ranks of Knappertsbusch and Kleiber, and while he doesn't have the epic insights of Wilhelm Furtwängler in the score, he certainly pulls it off better than many conductors like Solti and Karajan. A romantic reading of the pentultimate romantic work.
The unmentioned star in this recording, of course, is the producer Wieland Wagner, who played a key role in transforming the greatest Wagnerians of his day into the most magnetic singing artists in the history of German musical theater. Hey was the key figure in transforming Birgit Nilsson's Isolde into something that is truly memorable and bringing the passion and love in Varnay's Brünnhilde and the epicness in Martha Mödl's Kundry. If it weren't for him, Bayreuth would probably not be the historic icon that it is today, and I would say that he is the man who changed the history of Wagnerian theater and production."
Vinay and Varnay Shine
Steven Muni | Sutter Creek, CA USA | 01/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While there are many excellent recordings of Tristan und Isolde available, this has to rank right up there with the best. Chilean bass Ramon Vinay has a rich baritone timbre to his voice, (he started his career as a baritone and finished as one as well), and he brings a maturity and masculinity as well as a level of passion to Tristan that has to be heard to be believed. Astrid Varnay is enjoying a bit of a renaissance since last year's issuance by Testament of the Decca Bayreuth live stereo recordings of 1955, and most deservedly so. She has a slight mezzo timbre to her voice, that gives it a richness and warmth lacking in the burnished steel of Birgit Nilsson, another great Isolde. Their duets are simply incandescent. Though this recording is in mono, the sound quality is extremely good and well balanced, especially for a live recording. This is an opportunity to hear to fantastic artists at the prime of their careers. Go for it!"