Wagner: Tristan und Isolde - Varnay, Windgassen, Töpper, Imdahl, Van Mill; Keilberth. München, 1966
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I was very excited to stumble upon this recording. My appetite had been long whetted to find a Varnay/Wingdassen Tristan und Isolde since hearing the studio recording they made of excerpts from this opera. And although Nilsson and Windgassen were the legendary duo in this opera during their respective reigns, Varnay and Windgassen play off of one another in very interesting ways, particularly in their tense exchange in Act I. Varnay didn't leave her stamp on Isolde like she did in other roles. This is a shame as her portrayal is top notch. She is able to do what so many of her colleagues fail at- being equally comfortable with the dramatic passages like the Narration and curse, while conserving enough of her resources to be able to spin a gorgeous Liebestod. Many have said that Wolfgang Windgassen was never a true heldentenor. Having never heard him live I cannot account for the size of the voice but represented here he sings with the kind of oversized passion that one wants in this part. After all Act III of Tristan should sound anything but easy. Contrastingly amidst the chaos he manages to sing a truly beautiful accounting of "Und drauf Isolde" that is almost gut-wrenchingly sad. Hertha Töpper is a lush Brangäne and Joseph Keilberth (in the opera that he would be conducting at the time of his death!) deftly leads the orchestra and singers through this treacherous score while creating a lightness that is all to often lacking in some of the ponderous interpretations of this era. The sound is excellent.