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