Tristan und Isolde

Horst Stein
Coro y Orquesta del Teatro Colón Buenos Aires
30 September 1971
Teatro Colón Buenos Aires
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanJon Vickers
IsoldeBirgit Nilsson
BrangäneGrace Hoffmann
KurwenalNorman Mittelmann
König MarkeFranz Crass
MelotRicardo Yost
Ein junger SeemannRenato Sassola
Ein HirtEugenio Valori
SteuermannTulio Gagliardo

This 1971 Tristan was recorded live at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. Its principal value lies with the protangonists. The occasion marked Jon Vickers’ debut in a role he would make even more his own in the 1972 Karajan studio recording. Behind his dry timbre lies a powerful disposition and fierce integrity. Birgit Nilsson, however, is slightly past her best years, and I suspect that the numerous cuts were made in order for her not to tire. The supporting singers acquit themselves well, but can’t always be heard in a constricted recording that pushes the rather scrappy orchestra to the forefront. No texts, but informative notes accompany this fascinating but not really essential set. Wagner fanatics, though, certainly will want to hear it.

Artistic Quality: 6
Sound Quality: 5

Jed Distler


During the last part of the season at the TEATRO COLON only one production stood out above the rather routine performances which characterized this period. Thanks to the efforts of the two leading singers and the conductor Tristan und Isolde (September-October) turned out to be the most interesting operatic production to be seen or heard in Buenos Aires in 1971. Even though Birgit Nilsson and Horst Stein were a strong factor in the success of the production it was Tristan himself who gave a special character to the whole performance. Jon Vickers sang the part for the first time and, since the opening performance, those who watched him had the feeling that they were seeing the incarnation of Wagner’s hero, something which had not been felt since the golden days of Max Lorenz and Lauritz Melchior. For 20 years no good Isolde needed to fear that she would be deprived of this ‘one woman’ show — especially if this Isolde was Nilsson, even though she might have by her side the worthy Wolfgang Windgassen who was never a true Heldentenor. Vickers has that touch of authenticity and his dramatic approach does not compare unfavourably with that of his intelligent predecessors. His voice came over with more brilliance than usual and he added a colour just right for the role with no noticeable limitations in his range and without showing any signs of fatigue throughout. After many years this opera finally had two stars. Nilsson sang Isolde as well as one would have expected, making full use of the maturity of her interpretive qualities and, as ever, the brilliance of her voice. Stein, who was conducting here for the first time, was outstanding. It was said here that he brought out the emotional side of the music in the same way as did Fritz Busch. In any case, the orchestra of the Colon has not played with such brilliance and coordination in a work of Wagner since the time of Erich Kleiber. Among the rest of the cast Franz Crass was a noble but somewhat pompous King Mark; Grace Hoffman was convincing as Brangaene, Norman Mittelmann a bit dull as Kurwenal.


Opera (II)

The sound-only performance was recorded at the Colon in September 1971 on the occasion when Vickers assumed the role of Tristan for the first time, something Nilsson says, in the booklet, for which she had been waiting for 14 years, to have him as her ‘playmate’. Vickers repays the compliment by saying that she is the ‘greatest Isolde of all time’, a verdict one is inclined to agree with when listening to the strength, breadth and detail of her singing, anger, then passion of her reading. At the height of her appreciable powers, she is just about as convincing as on the Bayreuth 1966 set.

To have her and Vickers’s overwhelming Tristan together is indeed something to celebrate. Even if I have reservations about the Canadian tenor’s interpretation, the sheer ease of his actual singing here, when he like his partner was at the height of his powers, is something to marvel at. As with Karajan (EMI), his agonized ecstasy in the two delusory visions (given complete) of Act 3 is quite overwhelming and his actual singing apparently tireless. What I find tiresome is his tendency to near-crooning in the love duet of Act 2 and, more worrying, his distortion of German vowels—`Leeche for `Licht’ and `eewig’ for `ewig’, for instance— which, quite unnecessarily, makes his tone sound tight. Listening to Melchior and Suthaus, the other two Tristan giants on disc, you hear a more natural inflection of the text. Hoffman is a lacklustre Brangane, Mittelmann a sterling though not very personal Kurwenal. Crass, on the other hand, sings with inner feeling and a wonderfully firm line as Mark. Stein begins in prosaic fashion, but seems inspired by his principals to surpass his usual Kapellmeister approach in Acts 2 and 3, where the strings also gain in confidence, although the orchestra as a whole is not in the class of the better-known bands on other sets. Stein sanctions some outrageous cuts. Apart from the customary excision at the start of the Act 2 duet, part of Isolde’s narration rudely disappears and, even more heinously, her lament over Tristan’s body. The recording is fair.

August 1999

User Rating
Media Type/Label
VAI, Teatro Colon
Technical Specifications
460 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 698 MByte (flac)
A production by Ernst Poettgen
Jon Vickers’ Tristan debut
There are cuts in this performance: in Act 1, Scene 3, from “die Morald schlug, die Wunde” (Isolde) to “machtlos liess ich’s fallen” (Isolde); in Act 2, Scene 2, from “Dem Tage! Dem Tage!” (Tristan) to “dass nachtsichtig mein Auge wahres zu sehen tauge” (Tristan); and in Act 3, Scene 2, from “[nur eine Stunde] bleibe mir wach!” to “Nicht meine Klagen darf ich dir sagen?” (Isolde). Also, 5 bars from Act 2, Scene 1 are missing from the original recording – “Ist er nicht Tristan’s freund? Muss mein Trauter mich [meiden, dann weilt er bei Melot allein.]” (Isolde). [Jonathan Brown]