Tristan und Isolde

Daniel Barenboim
Concert Chorale of New York
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
20 October 2001
Carnegie Hall New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanChristian Franz
IsoldeWaltraud Meier
BrangäneNadja Michael
KurwenalAndreas Schmidt
König MarkeJohn Tomlinson
MelotBrian Davis
Ein junger SeemannMichael Reijans
Ein HirtMark Eldred
SteuermannMichael Brauer
The New York Times

After Daniel Barenboim made his debut at the Bayreuth Festival in 1981, he emerged as a major conductor of Wagner. In addition to his regular work at that Wagner citadel, he has given acclaimed performances of the Wagner canon at the Berlin State Opera, where he is the artistic director.

Naturally, as the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the last 10 years he has concentrated on orchestral repertory there. That changed — and how! — this fall.

On Thursday through Saturday nights at Carnegie Hall, Mr. Barenboim conducted the Chicago Symphony in extensive excerpts from ”Gotterdämmerung,” Act I of ”Die Walküre” and a complete ”Tristan und Isolde.” All three programs were presented in Chicago a few weeks ago. The opportunity to hear an important Wagnerian conduct an orchestra that, though great, was relatively new to these works, held enormous interest.

The ”Tristan” performance was not an occasion for vocal splendor. Waltraud Meier, who began her career as a mezzo-soprano, long ago ventured into the Wangerian dramatic soprano repertory. Her voice is now showing signs of misuse and wear. That said, she remains an electrifying artist, whose incisive delivery and dramatic subtlety made her a compelling Isolde. I think that Ms. Meier, a striking woman, would want it reported that she wore a different dress for each of the three acts and looked lovely. Though the tenor Christian Franz brought stamina and fervor to the staggeringly difficult role of Tristan, his singing was patchy in sound and nearly devoid of legato. The mezzo-soprano Nadja Michael pushed her voice alarmingly as Brangane. Andreas Schmidt as Kurwenal and Brian Davis as Melot were solid. Mr. Tomlinson exuded an anguished gravity as King Mark.

”Tristan” fans, who packed the hall on Saturday night, rewarded the performers with a standing ovation after each act. Though attendance was down on Friday, the full house for Thursday’s concert was heartening. Despite what pessimistic concert producers assert, here was evidence that when important performers like Mr. Ma and Mr. Barenboim offer a challenging new work by a living master, audiences will turn out.

ANTHONY TOMMASINI | October 22, 2001

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