Leonard Bersteine’s Recording of Tristan and Isolde

When I read on the course syllabus that the first short assignment of this course will be writing a review for a performence of Richard Wagner’s three-act, romantic masterpiece: Tristan and Isolde, I was ecstatic. I’ve always enjoy love stories, but even more so when it is put into music. To me, love and music are like two pieces of puzzles that completes

each other. Conducted between 1857-1859, this opera was considered one of the the most influential piece of opera ever written – with Wagner breaking the rule of the traditional rules harmony and used it in a whole new way. It is consider one of the turning point of not only opera, but western music. After going thru a couple of the recordings by different productions in the University Music Library, I’ve decided to write about the conduction of Leonard Bernstein, a five-disc, 1981 live recording of this magnificent opera.

Leonard Bersteine, has always been one of my favourite music composers, mostly for the music that he wrote for the famous musical, West Side Story. He was also an author, pianst, and a music conductor. And boy oh boy, he certainly did not dissapoint in conducting the score of Tristan. The recording of the entire orchestra was the most detailed version that I came across. The clarity and the richness of the music was simply flawless! The fourteen minute long Prelude, while a bit on the slow side, was espcially remarkable and beautiful. It came with so much feeling and got to my heart instantly. What a way to open an opera on a love story! Musically, I thought that through out the whole Opera, there was no paritcular highlight, because each part (cd) was one. I could truely feel the sense of passion, conflicting emotion and tension in different parts of the story, being brought out thru Bernstein’s conducting.

In addition to the music, the singing of both Tristan and Isolde were also wonderous. By Bersteine’s choice, Tristan was being sang by Peter Hofmann and Isolde by Hildegard Behrens while King Marke, Brangane were sang by Hans Sotin and Yvonne Minton. Hofmann, a German tenor, was at the time a rather talented actor/singer. I did not know much about him but I thought his performence was done extremely well. I liked his deep, manly vocal which thou was full of youth a great deal. For the most part, he was very steady with his singing and you could feel that he wasn’t just singing out the lines – he seemed to be rather into being Tristan, as his voice had the passion aswell as feel for the character. I was able to feel the tragic moments, notibally towards the end of the opera. Behrens, a German Soprano, on the other hand, was also great. Her voice was so beautiful and I really liked all of her solo parts. Her singing of the high notes were exceptional, espcially during Isolde’s famous “Liebestod”, which I thought was by far the most emotional part of the Opera. I thought Behrens Isolde’s conflicting emotions inside was brought out nicely by Behrens. The other singers (Sotin/Minton etc.) were also execellent.

Overall, I thought it was incredible that Bersteine was able to put together an amazing performence of such astonishingly difficult masterpiece while making all of his singers and the orchestra performing at their best. I enjoyed listening to it to the fullest. It is certainly one of the most beautiful recording that I’ve ever heard.