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Commentary

Tristan und Isolde
24 Sep 2005

SOUNDS FROM THE STUDIO

The EMI label’s new version of “Tristan und Isolde,” starring Plácido Domingo, has received weirdly apocalyptic advance publicity: it has been described as the final large-scale opera recording in history.

by ALEX ROSS [New Yorker, 26 September 2005]

New recordings, from Wagner to Golijov.

The EMI label’s new version of “Tristan und Isolde,” starring Plácido Domingo, has received weirdly apocalyptic advance publicity: it has been described as the final large-scale opera recording in history. “Twilight of the CD Gods? A Studio ‘Tristan’ May Be the Last Ever,” read a headline in the Times. With its opulent production values and showy cameos in minor roles—Ian Bostridge as the Shepherd; Rolando Villazón, Domingo’s heir apparent in the Italian tenor repertory, as the Young Seaman—the set is a throwback to the golden age of the nineteen-fifties and sixties, when EMI summoned all-star casts to make generally unsurpassed recordings of “Don Giovanni,” “The Magic Flute,” “Fidelio,” “Tosca,” and, under the helm of Wilhelm Furtwängler, “Tristan.” They don’t make them like that anymore, but they are still making them. Virgin Classics, which is distributed by EMI, just issued a glamorous recording of Vivaldi’s previously unknown “Bajazet.” Decca is releasing a sumptuous studio recording of Richard Strauss’s “Daphne,” with Renée Fleming in the title role. There’s even a competing “Tristan” out, a feisty budget effort from the Naxos label. Where did the end-ofeverything story about EMI’s “Tristan” get started? Probably in EMI’s publicity department. Only in classical music would the alleged death of a genre be used to hype it.

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