Tristan und Isolde

Franz-Paul Decker
Dallas Civic Opera Chorus and Orchestra
6 December 1975
Music Hall at Fair Park Dallas
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanJon Vickers
IsoldeRoberta Knie
BrangäneJosephine Veasey
KurwenalJef Vermeersch
König MarkeNicola Zaccaria
MelotPiero de Palma
Ein junger SeemannPiero de Palma
Ein HirtJames Atherton
SteuermannMerle Schmidt

The last production of the season, Tristan und Isolde, was the triumphant hour of the company this year. Few performances have been as glorious and inspired as its first venture into the realm of Wagner. For the majority of opera-goers, Tristan literally and figuratively begins in the pit. Because of administrative pressures, Rescigno had to withdraw as conductor. He was replaced by Franz-Paul Decker, music director of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and his Tristan was a major achievement. His knowledge of the score is profound, and his love for it immense. So clear and rich in scope was his view that one felt he stood at the first note of the prelude and saw right through to the last notes of the Liebestod. In every way, this was a signal concept, and Decker brought the very best out of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra in each of the three performances. Since the incomparable Martha Mödl abandoned the role of Isolde, I have waited, and none too patiently, for a soprano of the same warmth, womanliness and galvanizing presence. I found her in Roberta Knie. Her staying power in the part is prodigious, and visually she has all the look of trim youth and crazed passion one hopes for but rarely encounters in an Isolde. Although she is from Oklahoma, this was her American stage debut. It seemed obvious to those present that she could easily become the principal Wagner heroine for the next decade and beyond.

Her Tristan was Jon Vickers. As in his portrayals of Otello and Peter Grimes, Tristan draws a unique response of colour, accent, insight and power from this noble artist. More compelling than his ability to ride the crest of Wagner’s orchestra was the sense of helplessness he brought to the character, a deep awareness of a man trapped by a force he cannot fight and a fate he cannot escape. He took us beyond music, beyond theatre to a wrenching plane of truth which left audiences shaken and deeply affected. Josephine Veasey’s radiant Brangaene was a wonderful foil for the darker glow of Miss Knie’s singing. Kurwenal was sturdily delivered by Jef Vermeesch, and Zaccaria was a tentative but promising Mark in his first performance of the role. The production originated in Montreal last spring. It was designed by Roberto Oswald and staged by Ernst Poettgen. It is extremely beautiful and evocative, and held up a miraculous mirror to the dreamlike aspects of the score. The action was played out on a single, stage-filling disc which was enveloped in clouds and kaleidoscopic projections. It filled me with sadness, however, to learn that it will not be seen again. The corn pany which originated the production has gone out of business, and because of customs regulations, Dallas could not keep the sets without paying a large duty, and Montreal asked that they be destroyed after the final Dallas performance. What incredible waste at a time when opera struggles under mounting financial burdens and when this production could have served another half-dozen cities! Somehow, somewhere, someone’s values are surely out of order.

JOHN ARDOIN | March 1976

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 516 MByte (MP3)
A production by Ernst Poettgen