Tristan und Isolde

Erich Kleiber
Chor und Orchester der Bayerischen Staatsoper München
20 July 1952
Prinzregententheater München
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanGünther Treptow
IsoldeHelena Braun
BrangäneMargarete Klose
KurwenalRudolf Großmann
König MarkeFerdinand Frantz
MelotAlbrecht Peter
Ein junger SeemannRichard Holm
Ein HirtPaul Kuën
SteuermannFritz Richard Bender

This live-from-Munich in ’52 performance turns out to be a notable Tristan, as sensitive as it is intense; a Tristan whose only (!) problem is its erratic, indeed occasionally headstrong and weird singing. Erich Kleiber leads a somewhat earthbound performance, and I mean that descriptively rather than critically. The story he tells, rather than concentrating on Wagner’s darkness/light, love/death symbolism, is about lovers and their very human tragedy. Isolde is a woman scorned; Tristan, at first arrogant and ambiguous, is smitten after drinking the potion; Kurwenal is a somewhat vulgar hale-fellow-well-met and Brangaene a concerned, meddling (then rueful) lady-in-waiting; and King Marke is a dignified, disappointed man in love. In other words, it’s as close to an Italian opera as it can get.

Both leads sing lyrically, as if the “Bayreuth bark” had never taken hold. But that doesn’t mean they sing well: The Italianate intensity is most welcome, and it makes sense given Helena Braun’s lyric sound; but particularly near the opera’s start her pitch is all over the place, and her use of portamento throughout borders on scooping. But she is stunningly expressive. Her diction is impeccable, with consonants spat out in the Narrative and Curse. She’s inward and still and nervously loving as she waits for Tristan at the start of Act 2, and she’s utterly shattered at the opera’s close–death is not a victory of love. In other words, she and Kleiber work with what they’ve got–an Isolde as large as, but not larger than, life.

As mentioned, Günther Treptow’s Tristan is multi-faceted, but his singing is startlingly inconsistent–interesting, well-tuned, and manly in the first interview, sensitive after the long pause near Act 1’s close, rabidly flat and squeezed during most of the love duet, then turning in the most beautiful “O König…” imaginable, and finishing with an extraordinary (if too jumpy) depiction of his last-act’s delirium. In other words, pot-luck. Margarethe Klose’s Brangaene is excellent in its end-of-act-one mania and other-worldly Warning. Ferdinand Frantz’s Marke is solid and devoid of unnecessary histrionics, and both he and Rudolf Grossmann as Kurwenal create real characters, although the latter doesn’t sing very appealingly most of the time.

The half-century-old sound is very clear, but the recording lacks depth; nonetheless, the stillness at the start of Act 2 is nicely eerie, the big moments big enough. Kleiber never lags, never rushes. The finale of Act 1 is broken nearly four minutes before it’s over because the act runs 83 minutes and the CD can’t hold it all–a pity. What to do with this all-too-human performance? It’s worth hearing, but I don’t think it’s a keeper–certainly not one for the time capsule. That’s Flagstad (either with Furtwängler or with Reiner in 1936) or Böhm.

Robert Levine

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Melodram 014
Myto, Walhall Eternity, Line, Treasure of the Earth, OOA, OA
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Technical Specifications
511 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 897 MiB (flac)
Some sources give the date 29 July 1952
There is a cut in this performance: in Act 2, Scene 2, from “Dem Tage! Dem Tage!” (Tristan) to “dass nachtsichtig mein Auge wahres zu sehen tauge” (Tristan) [Jonathan Brown]