Wednesday 14 November 2007

Tristan in Munich: Breathtaking

Tristan and Isolde. Bavarian State Opera, November 11th 2007. Production: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Waltraud Meier (Isolde), John Treleaven (Tristan), René Pape (Marke), Michael Volle (Kurwenal), Daniela Sindram (Brangäne). Conductor: Kent Nagano.

In brief, this Konwitschny staging of Tristan and Isolde at the Bavarian State Opera was one of the most overwhelming and moving operatic experiences in memory.

To start with Waltraud Meier and René Pape , whom words simply do not do justice in the parts, which they have truly redefined.

Waltraud Meier´s identification with Isolde is almost legendary. Today she furthermore was vocally on top, effortlessly throwing out the high C´s as well as presenting her entirely compelling Isolde, detailed beyond description. As the only truly compelling female stage presence in the Wagner repertoire on stage today, I am only happy that it would seem she may perform this part for quite some time yet. She was deservedly greeted with standing ovations.

What Waltraud Meier did with Kundry in the 1090´s, René Pape has done with King Marke over the past 10 years: Entirely redefined the part and moving it onto center-stage in a very dignified portrait of the not-so-old-King who, for once, is not a whimp. Needless to say, he can also sing all the notes. A King Marke at this level, I don´t expect to see from anyone else in my lifetime.

Even John Treleaven (contrary to my expectations based on his dismal Siegfried in London 10 days ago) managed to get reasonably through the Tristan. While he did not approach the level of the others, he was more than passable. And in very fine voice too. I suppose the lower range of singing for Tristan suits his voice better than Siegfried, and who would not be inspired to act his best next to Waltraud Meier?

Michael Volle was just excellent as Kurwenal, both in voice and in acting (he still had that aged rock star look from the Eugene Onegin of the day before). Daniela Sindram was a fine Brangäne, although a bit characterless, but that seems to suit the character well.

Lastly Kent Nagano, whom I usually find too constrained and passive in Wagner was excellent. The orchestral flow moved continuously throughout, with all the dynamic tempo shifts his Onegin lacked. And light years better than his Parsifal earlier this year. Deservedly ovations to him as well.

Not to forget Konwitschny´s immensely moving staging. It is released on DVD with Waltraud Meier, which doesn´t entirely do it justice. In the theater you are completely blown away:

The first act takes place on a ship within a quadrangular section of the stage. Isolde and Brangäne are sipping cocktails and a geometrically shaped fish is seen in the background. You almost sense, that this is not real. The same applies to the act two lovers placed on a yellow sofa in front of red trees. The black steps seen on the photo below are present throughout the opera and this is where Tristan and Isolde descend (to death) and change into all-black outfits when discovered by Melot. In the third act, Tristan is alone in a stark concrete room lit by a single light bulb (the reality?), while images (from his youth?) are projected on a screen. When Isolde arrives, they both descend in front of the set, where the liebestod is sung. The opera ends with a backdrop of Marke and Brangäne in front of two white coffins. Immensely moving.

One of the finest stagings of any opera I have been so privileged to see.

Photographs from the company website


daland said...

Maier as Isolde will open LaScala on dec.7th.

Barenboim (who was recently with her in Japan) will conduct the new - and unique - staging by Patrice Chéreau!

I was fast enough with fingers+mouse on nov.5th to catch a seat for the last performance (jan.2nd). They opened the site at 9:00 and at 9:02 all the tickets for all the 7 performances were gone!

mostly opera... said...

Tell me about it! I actually had tickets I let go for the 28th dec. as I wrongly (!) assumed I had to work. I have not yet given up hope, since tickets keep popping up on the website. Believe me...I AM GOING!!!

daland said...

Meier has opened LaScala three times in the past, always with Riccardo Muti (who’s missing him?): ‘91 (Kundry), ’94 (Sieglinde, with your beloved Placido) and ’99 (Leonore).

If I’m right, she was Isolde for the first time in ’93 in Bayreuth, precisely with the Orchestergraben-recordman-by-far (Barenboim, who else? 161 podiums there) and perhaps she hasn’t herself kept counting her Isolde’s performances...

I share your point: nowadays no better an Isolde can possibly be met on earth.

Daniel is the new “Re di Milano” (king of Milan): while having no official, nor formal, appointment, he is the de-facto musical director at LaScala; and God knows how badly that was needed here!

He’s had since months his “how-do-you-do” with the orchestra, and results were visible - pardon, audible - very quickly. Last week he opened the “Filarmonica” season with an outstanding performance that included: Bartok piano concerto 2, with his “kid” Lang Lang (after the performance he sat left to him at the piano, giving an “encore” with a Schubert’s military march!) and a Wagner-recipe “à la Solti”: Tannhäuser ouv, Siegfried’s Rheinfahrt & Funeral March, Meistersinger prelude.

I’ll prepare this Tristan as if it was “my last Tristan”, he told an italian paper recently... and you can bet that he’ll keep his promise. Next year, just to give us here a tangible sign of his engagement, he’ll replicate his hystorical berliner 2005 performance: the complete Beethoven sonatas in 8 evenings, from january to june!

Lastly, a word for an interpreter that is regularly forgotten in any Tristan opera-poster. I see from the Munich staging that the english-horn player is at the center of the stage: do you know his name? We know the name of the tenor (Kevin Conners there) who sings no more than 18 bars, with the only slight difficulty on the words “ lustig als ich sie nur kann”... while the real character is in fact the english-horn player! At the beginning of Act III, he has to play - solo! - 42 measures constellated by no less than 50 dynamic-agogic indications! Not to speak of the 25 measures at Isolde’s vessel’s sight, where his sound must recall an alpenhorn...

Of course, LaScala posters - next to “ein Hirt” character, show the name of Ryland Davies, but who’s going - hopefully - to deserve our ovation is prof. Renato Duca!

mostly opera... said...

Two players shared the english-horn in Act 3 and moved in front of the sets. Their names were: Igor Storozhenko and Isabella Unterer.
Don´t get me wrong here: I like Plácido Domingo, but that´s NOTHING compared to my admiration for Daniel Barenboim (and Waltraud Meier). Really he was the only person who could have improved that Tristan in Munich (and I did miss him there, despite Nagano´s high standards). Thielemann is a great conductor, but in the theater in the Wagner repertoire, there is nobody like Barenboim. Have you seen Barenboims conducting schedule for December? It´s completely horrendous: He is conducting the new Don Giovanni in Berlin (w/Rene Pape) as well as the Scala Tristan on alternating days for several weeks in a row...seriously I hope his blood pressure is OK..

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