Domingo is at his most poignant in the quieter moments of the Act II Love Duet, though he also brings considerable pathos to his raging Act III monologues. OK, his German isn't exactly textbook, but the virility of his performance - the ringing tenor by now edging just a little nearer to baritone - recalls, at times, such past masters as Melchior and Vinay. His Isolde, Nina Stemme, is womanly and confident, a strong singer, though, like Olaf Bär's portrayal of Tristan's trusted companion Kurwenal, she lacks the last degree of vocal distinction. Tristan's impact relies as much on the conductor as on the singers, and Antonio Pappano proves a robust and sympathetic interpreter, volatile within the bounds of decency while inspiring some excellent solo work from members of the Royal Opera House Orchestra. A DVD bonus disc carries a surround-sound version of the audio production and an on-screen libretto.
I note from the booklet that EMI's set is released "in memory of Carlos Kleiber", whose own celebrated early-Eighties Tristan with the Staatskapelle Dresden has come out at mid-price (DG 477 5355, three discs *****). Kleiber's conducting is remarkable for its energy and sleek contours: phrase after phrase sweeps or swells; each episode is thoughtfully articulated; and you nearly always sense that the man at the helm is also a man of the theatre. But if Kleiber's Tristan tips the scales orchestra-wise, Domingo is more engaging than René Kollo, a fine singer but hardly a Tristan to take your breath away. On the other hand, Dame Margaret Price's Isolde is a class act, proud, inscrutable,profoundly feminine and vocally stunning. Her response to musical line matches the conductor's, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is a more perceptive Kurwenal than he had been for Furtwängler some 30 years earlier.
Interesting to compare Carlos Kleiber with his father, Erich Kleiber, recorded in Munich in 1952 (Walhall WLCD0044, three discs ***) with Günther Treptow and Helena Braun in the title roles.Both singers are memorable more for their convincing Wagner style than for their voices, while the dramatic evidence suggests that Kleiber père served as a prototype for his son. Then again, Rudolf Kempe at the New Met in 1955 (Walhall WLCD0135, three discs ***) is equally dynamic, his cast crowned by Set Svanholm, whose manly ardour degenerates in Act III to hysteria. Svanholm's Isolde is Astrid Varnay, but turn to Artur Bodanzky at the Met in 1937 (Walhall WLCD0103, three discs *****) and you encounter the young Kirtsen Flagstad in radiant voice. Her Tristan for the occasion, Lauritz Melchior, was - and still is - beyond compare, a vocal hero who conveys the burning essence of the tortured character. It's a recording that all committed Wagnerians simply have to hear, despite the rough sound quality.Reuse content