Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Ligendza, Wenkoff, McIntyre, Ridderbusch, McIntyre, Jerusalem; Stein. Bayreuth, 1977
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One of the musical highlights of the Bayreuth Festival in the 1970s was a new production of Tristan und Isolde led by the dynamic Carlos Kleiber and featuring Catarina Ligendza and Spas Wenkoff in the title roles. By 1977 when the production came back Horst Stein took over conducting duties. Although Stein never had the cult following that Kleiber had, his musical achievement is no less remarkable and an interesting study in the differences a particular conductor can extract from the same score. Stein’s approach is less idiomatic. There are no iconoclastic dramatic ideas or startling breaks from Wagner’s very specific musical instructions. What he does bring is a romantic sweep and an ability to get the orchestra to express the longing and aguish of Wagner’s paean to love. The cast is excellent. As Tristan, Spas Wenkoff brings lyricism and remarkable breath control the likes of which you rarely hear in Wagner. Catarina Ligendza gets off to a rocky start in Act I but settles into the taxing role, culminating in an ecstatic Liebestod. Yvonne Minton is a youthful Brangäne, Donald McIntyre’s Kurewenal is brash in Act I and sensitive in Act III. Karl Ridderbusch brings gravitas to Marke’s heartbreak. Siegfried Jerusalem is luxury casting as the young seaman.