[NOTE: This entry has been edited as of 11:04 AM Eastern on 13 Aug to clarify and sharpen language and add remarks unintentionally omitted.]
Courtesy of YouTube contributor "Logan D" we've now been able to view an HD video of the complete 2015 Bayreuther Festspiele Tristan und Isolde, a new production conceived and directed by Wagner great-granddaughter Katharina Wagner. We've had occasion to say something about this production in the S&F entry titled "The 2015 Bayreuther Festspiele Tristan From A Distance" based on a live audio stream of the premiere by BR Klassik Radio as well as on act-by-act production photos and verbal descriptions of the physical action so this new HD video held no surprises for us as far as the staging is concerned. We previously called that staging sophomoric and sophomoric is what it proved to be, from the conceit of Act I's blatant if only tenuously symbolically apposite allusion to M.C. Escher's impossible staircases leading nowhere, to the bizarre sci-fi futuristic prison of Act II (yes, this is a Regietheater staging — what else? — and Act II is set in a prison run by the henchmen of this production's tyrannical König Marke wherein Tristan and Isolde are held captive along with Kurwenal), to the imagined symbolic rightness of Act III's utterly black, all but featureless blank stage and background with its reappearing, floating, Isolde-filled triangles of light (perhaps a reference, if reference they indeed are, to the tent-like structure Tristan and Isolde jerry-rigged in the prison of Act II to hide them from the searchlights of König Marke's henchmen, but given Katharina's sophomoric Regie mentality we shudder to think what else those triangles might be a reference to), not to again speak of the imbecile close of the music-drama in this staging wherein Isolde, at the close of her Verklärung, is ripped away from Tristan's corpse and dragged off by König Marke very much alive as if she were mere chattel (as indeed she was originally intended to be). Finally, after having seen the full production, to all the above we now feel compelled to add how appalling the disconnect is, emotional and intellectual, between this staging and the nonpareil transcendent work created by Katharina's great-grandfather more than 150 years ago in what proved to be an ironic attempt to compose an opera that could be mounted quickly and easily even by theaters of modest means. We do, however, have to give Katharina credit for cleverly and neatly doing away with the magic love potion thing upon the magic of which potion even those who ought to know better are still wont to lay blame for the lovers' out-of-control passion for each other. While the staging held no surprises for us, what was a surprise — and a welcome and most pleasant one at that — were the performances themselves. We previously wrote that, overall, this Tristan was merely "adequate" performance-wise with the great Wagner conductor Christian Thielemann markedly off his game in the music-drama's Prelude and Act I. With Wagner, if the conductor is off his game the game is pretty much over for the whole show. This time around, however, Thielemann was on his game in spades right from the music-drama's first measure through its very last which is another way of saying you'll never hear a more superlative reading of this score than this one, not even from the Wagnerian podium greats of the past. And as for the singer-actors, this time around all of them seemed to be performing at the top of their game as well, both musically and dramatically, their physical acting very much included. Evelyn Herlitzius, this production's Isolde, while possessing a big voice that's sharp-edged rather than beautiful and with a tendency to shrillness when going flat-out, was powerfully moving, especially in tandem with her excellent physical acting. Stephen Gould, the production's Tristan, more a big-voiced dramatic tenor rather than a true Heldentenor, was also powerfully moving and, like his Isolde, his physical acting was excellent. A standout, both musically and dramatically, was Georg Zeppenfeld, this production's König Marke, whose darkly rich bass and first-rate acting skills made even this staging's tyrannical König Marke believable and sympathetic (well, almost sympathetic). Christa Mayer and Iain Paterson, the Brangäne and Kurwenal, respectively, did excellent musical and dramatic duty in their supporting roles adding immeasurably to the first-rate musical and dramatic success of this production on this video, never mind the sophomoric staging. Typically, our advice to those contemplating spending time viewing this video would be for them to shut their eyes and just listen. But we can't really do that in this case as then the excellent physical acting done by the singer-actors would be missed and thereby the viewers short-changed. All we can do here by way of advice, then, is to lamely suggest that viewers ignore the staging for the duration as best they can manage the trick and their more hungry theatrical sensibilities take the hindmost.