This production of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" was premiered at the 1981
Bayreuth Festival and recorded in its third year on the Bayreuth stage, in
1983. With the celebrated Wagner tenor René Kollo as Tristan and the
American-born soprano Johanna Meier as Isolde, supported by Matti Salminen
(King Marke), Hermann Becht (Kurwenal) and Hanna Schwarz (Brangäne), the
production was an uncontested feast of vocal mastery. This was underscored
by the "wondrous gold of the score" that "flowed from the orchestra pit in
a luminous symphonic flow." (Süddeutsche Zeitung) Responsible for the
inspired and transparent musical direction is Daniel Barenboim, whose
sensitive treatment of the orchestra provides the ideal counterpoint to the
interpreters on the stage.
In his interpretation of "Tristan und Isolde" - his one and only production
for the Bayreuth Festival - the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle refused to follow
the fashionable trend of seeking to update a work at all costs. His
interest lay chiefly in the psychological treatment of the action, whereby
the sublimated love of Tristan and Isolde becomes a nocturne of emotional
and psychological depth. His alteration of the end, in which the events of
the third act are depicted as a dream sequence experienced by the dying
Tristan, provoked considerable criticism in the first year, but was
rendered more clearly understandable by Ponnelle in the following years.
Ponnelle adapted his production for its audiovisual recording, ensuring
that all the magical effects visible in the theater are as stunning and
evocative on the screen.