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The dream pair of lovers: Birgit Nilsson and Jon Vickers (singing his first Tristan) in one of their very few appearances together in this opera. Live 1971 performance from the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. Digital audio mastering by Don Davies.
[1999, Mono, 3-CD, 209 minutes]
TRISTAN UND ISOLDE
Opera in Three Acts
Libretto by the Composer
Isolde - Birgit Nilsson
Tristan - Jon Vickers
Brangäne - Grace Hoffman
Kurwenal - Norman Mittelmann
King Marke - Franz Crass
Melot - Ricardo Yost
Young Sailor - Renato Sassola
Steersman - Tulio Gagliardo
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires
Horst Stein, conductor
Tulio Boni, chorus master
(Live performance, September 1971)
After having sung with Mr. Vickers in Die Walküre, Aida, and Fidelio, I, as well as everyone else, was looking forward to his Tristan — myself especially, who, as the papers were writing, should get the ideal "playmate." I waited and waited.
Jon Vickers was even scheduled for a recording and some performances of Tristan, but alas, Jon, who is his own strongest critic, perhaps did not yet feel quite ready for the task. Finally, in September 1971 in Buenos Aires, Jon was singing his first Tristan. I had then been waiting for him just as long as Jacob waited for Rachel in the bible - 14 years! I am sure that everyone who is listening to Jon Vickers’s Tristan will agree with me: he was worth waiting for!
I find it very difficult to put into words the feelings I had and still have about singing with Birgit Nilsson. Birgit was, without question, the greatest Isolde of all time and I am certain that there would be very few who would differ in that opinion. As much as I so wanted to sing Tristan with her, I was determined not to take on anything that would harm my voice and shorten my career. The soprano voice matures sooner than the voice of the dramatic tenor and, to make things more difficult, I was younger than Birgit.Tristan is considered by many to be the most difficult tenor role in the German repertoire and as much as I was tempted to take on this role - continually pressured to do so - I put it off for a long period of time. When opportunity presented itself to go to Buenos Aires for six performances with Birgit I leapt at the chance. It was not a mistake. The thrill of singing anything with Birgit simply cannot be overstated. There was a meeting of minds and spirits and emotions as we melded in all our interpretations of this gigantic, beautiful work. What was so rewarding in this melding was that our voices - well matched - blended so well.
These words I have written as prelude to answering the question: What was it like to sing with Birgit? My answer may draw smiles when I say, as I have often said, that it was like singing with the Rock of Gibraltar - that beautiful, that powerful, and that "solid." It was an experience to ever be thankful for, and never to be forgotten. Thank you Birgit for your patient waiting so long, and for the joy you gave to me.
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