Wagner-Tristan und Isolde (Forbis/Charbonet/Suisse Romande/Jordan) (2005) (NTSC)

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Released 1-Oct-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-"Olivier Py, Tristan et Isolde"
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 222:26 (Case: 274)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Andy Sommer
Bel Air Classiques
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet
Clifton Forbis
Alfred Reiter
Albert Dohmen
Mihoko Fujimura
Philippe Duminy
David Sotgiu
Nicolas Carre
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music Richard Wagner

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Linear PCM 48/24 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles German
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Tristan und Isolde was composed between 1857 and 1859. Wagner completed an act at a time in full orchestral score, which he sent off to his publisher before commencing the next act. It was to be six years though before the work was performed. An abortive attempt to stage the work in Vienna was abandoned after 76 rehearsals as unperformable, and the work was first performed in Munich in 1865. While not universally acclaimed at first, it has since become one of the most influential musical works ever, at once the apogee of the Romantic period and the precursor to modern music.

    This production of the opera comes from the Grand Théâtre de Genève and dates from February 2005. It is presented in modern dress. The set appears to be the side of a ship in Act I, in a slowly revolving house in Act II and on a platform and bed with the stage covered in a shallow layer of water in Act III. I can't say a lot more about the production as we do not get to see it clearly, due to a miserable video production. The video director Andy Sommer has basically botched this up for anyone who wanted to watch this as if it was a theatrical production. There are plenty of close-ups, some extreme, shots from odd angles, shots seemingly done with a night-vision camera, and some slow-motion effects. Added to this are the frequent cuts from one shot to the next, and frequent camera movement. It would be accurate to say that there is not a single shot that lasts for 15 seconds without a cut to another shot, or some camera movement. Often the camera is pointed at one of the performers who is not singing. Sometimes this is to capture a reaction to what is being sung but just as often it seems unnecessary.

    The result of this is that the work seems out of joint and a lot of the dramatic narrative thread is lost. It also means that much of the staging is unseen, though some of it can be viewed in the accompanying documentary. One element of the staging that can be seen in Act III but remains unexplained is the appearance of a boy who brings several items on stage, such as a globe and a model ship, and a young woman. Neither of these are in the original opera. As mentioned before the stage is covered in a thin layer of water, with two deeper sections on either side of the stage where these two additional characters swim in and out. Perhaps they are intended to be figments of Tristan's delirium.

    The musical side of things fares better. Armin Jordan, who died about 18 months after this performance and looks a little haggard, nevertheless guides the orchestra well. The performance is a little on the fast side though many details of the music can be heard. The singers are not out of the top drawer but hold together well. Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet's Isolde gets to be a bit ragged towards the end though she is reasonably good in the first two Acts. Clifton Forbis as Tristan has a voice that sounds baritonal a lot of the time, and in the tenor register is not the most beautiful of instruments, but at least he manages to keep his voice through to the end in what is one of the most difficult parts in the tenor repertoire. Visually it is a little disconcerting that he looks no younger than King Marke. The two leads are at their best in the love duet that takes up much of Act II. The rest of the cast are good if undistinguished.

    In summary this is neither the best nor the worst of Tristan on DVD. It is though one of the more expensive. Though I do not have the RRP I have seen it in stores ranging from $104 to $121. When you consider that the just-released Barenboim-conducted Tristan DVD from Deutsche Grammophon costs less than half that, and comes with a good reputation, it seems that this release just about prices itself out of the market.

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Transfer Quality


    The video is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The video is about average when compared to other, similar opera DVDs. Any artefacts are less noticeable considering the style of the video production. The video is not particularly sharp or detailed. There are a lot of black costumes and props and the low level lighting makes a lot of scenes a little murky in the backgrounds.

    Video artefacts are mainly low level noise and some Gibb Effect (though this can rarely be seen), with compression artefacts visible in backgrounds in the wider shots. There were a couple of brief instances of aliasing. As the production was shot on video there are no film artefacts.

    Both discs are dual-layered. On Disc One the break is at 78:52, ideally placed between the two Acts on this disc. On Disc Two, Act III is on one layer, with the featurette on the other.

    Optional subtitles are provided in several languages. French is the default subtitle language. The English subtitles seem to be good, being in clear white text and easy to read.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two audio tracks, being Linear PCM stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1. I listened to the Dolby Digital track in full and sampled the PCM track.

    Both audio tracks are very good, with plenty of detail and a wide dynamic range. However at times the Dolby Digital track sounded a little congested, detail disappearing in a swathe of sound. The Dolby Digital track has a soundstage centred on the front channels, evenly spread across the three speakers. Rear channels provide some ambience, like reverberation of the music to give the effect of being in the concert hall, and audience coughs to reinforce that effect. The subwoofer blends discreetly into the mix.

    The PCM track seems a bit richer and more realistic than the Dolby Digital track, but the difference is marginal.

    There are no significant problems with audio sync. However I think in a couple of the wider angle shots the movements of the singers' mouths do not quite match up to the audio. On anything but a very large screen this probably would not be noticeable.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Main Menu Audio and Animation

    Music from the opening of Act III and some video footage of the stars.


    The booklet contains a cast listing, track listing, synopsis and interview with Py about the production, the last two in several languages.

Featurette-"Olivier Py, Tristan et Isolde" (51:59)

    This documentary on Disc Two is about the stage director Olivier Py and his production of Tristan. Here we see more of the set than we see in the actual feature, and he explains his background with the work and some of the things that he was trying to achieve. At one point he is even seen discussing how to achieve one of Wagner's stage directions, which is certainly an anomaly in this era.

    The documentary also includes footage from behind the scenes, following the singers as they walk from their dressing rooms through the bowels of the theatre, and showing the stagehands moving the props and scenery into place. Later, after the production concludes, they pack up and label the bits and pieces of the set for storage.

    Some of the audio is in English but the bulk of it is in French for which English subtitles are available.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This DVD release seems to be the same all around the world.


    What could have been a decent record of this opera is spoiled by an ill-advised video production.

    The video quality is good.

    The audio quality is very good.

    The extra material is interesting and aids in the understanding of the stage production.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD projector, 95. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationReceiver: Pioneer VSX-AX4ASIS; Power Amplifiers: Elektra Reference (mains), Elektra Theatron (centre/rears)
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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