I so wanted to give this recording five stars: the overall impression it leaves is so profoundly beautiful it seems churlish not to. Unfortunately there are a few rough edges, and so I'm reluctantly marking it down to four.
The opera itself is, of course, utterly amazing, and is always a strong contender for the most emotionally powerful music ever written. The performance of it here is generally excellent. Jiri Belohlavek goes for an intimate interpretation in his conducting, low on orchestral fireworks and big noises, and well suited to the Glyndebourne venue. His control of the orchestra never falters, and the London Philharmonic certainly live up to their excellent reputation. The singing, too, is very good, though some of the acting is less so.
Nina Stemme is simply magnificent as Isolde. Her voice is beautiful and secure in the role, and her acting is subtle and intelligent. Robert Gambill as Tristan has a good, masculine, baritonal edge to his voice, but he seems less comfortable as an actor, and in fact he seems to act best when he's forgetting to act at all. The slightly wayward wig that he wears for the first two acts probably didn't help him. Rene Pape is wonderful in the role of King Marke, and he gives the character real depth and interest. Bo Skovhus gives a great performance as Kurwenal, and Katarina Karneus is a sensitive Brangaene. Stephen Gadd sings Melot very well, but I felt his acting was a bit basic.
The problems with this recording are really in the production and its presentation on DVD. Although the acting is generally very good, one or two moments - the fight scenes, really - don't work. Kurwenal's slow-motion killing of Melot is a cliché, and the fight between Tristan and Melot is poorly choreographed. Some of the camerawork is less than perfect, too - in some of the close-ups, the scenery gauzes that enhance the lighting effects are plainly and painfully visible.
Having said this, the production is strikingly beautiful. I was doubtful at first of an opera with very little action being played out on a single, static set. But Lehnhoff's idea of the `womb/cage' set is a stroke of genius, and its simplicity means it never gets in the way of the music. Lit in various colours from different angles, the set can indeed look like the timbers of a ship, the arching branches of a tree, or the ramparts of a castle, and the sliding backdrops and gauzes allow for some clever and intelligent lighting work. Lehnhoff says in his interview that this opera is a `dramaturgy of light', and his production is a manifestation of this principle.
Sound and picture quality are very good. There are a number of extras including interviews with some of the singers and production team. Despite the few quibbles here and there, this is a great recording and I highly recommend it.