Sunday 30 March 2008

Tristan on DVD: Py´s teenage suicide vision from Geneva

Tristan and Isolde. Geneva Opera 2005. Production: Olivier Py. Cast: Jean-Michelle Charbonnet (Isolde), Clifton Forbis (Tristan), Mihoko Fujimura (Brangäne), Albert Döhmen (Kurwenal), Alfred Reiter (King Marke). Conductor: Armin Jordan. Further information here.

Young French director Olivier Py has a surprisingly original take on Tristan and Isolde: In the bonus documentary we learn that the opera is about death, more precisely ”two teenagers committing suicide”, a concept clearly transformed to both sets and stage direction.

Everything in this production simply oozes of death. It is black and austere. In Act 1 we are on a sort of black bridge/terrace. In the particularly well-thought out Act 2, Tristan and Isolde pass through several rooms, reflecting on their state of mind, until they try to commit suicide together by (once again) drinking together, however they are caught in the act by King Marke. In the third act we see how people from Tristan´s previous life (his mother) and even himself as a boy passes before him.

Unfortunately, due to the exceptionally bad videography (shaky camera, odd close-up angles) viewers get no impression of what the staging was like for those in the auditorium. From the documentary we learn that a ship slowly traverses the backgound of the stage for the duration of Act 1 – something DVD-viewers got no impression of at all.

Musically the performance was lead by veteran-Wagnerian Armin Jordan (conducting the soundtrack to Syberberg´s Parsifal film in the early 80´s), who clearly has good understanding of the structure of the piece, but with a somewhat passive approach.

Fine performances from Jeanne-Michelle Charbonnet (Isolde) and especially Clifton Forbis (Tristan), who also managed to look the part. Also good performances from Mihoko Fujimura´s beautiful, but small-voiced Brangäne, Albert Döhmen´s Kurwenal and Alfred Reiters lanky and lethargic King Marke.

The main downside to this DVD is clearly the substandard videography. Unacceptably bad for a professional release. If you only plan on owning one (or two) Tristans, this one may not be among them, but it makes for interesting watching, not least due to the original and well-thought out staging.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Jean-Michelle Charbonnet: 4
Clifton Forbis: 4
Mihoko Fujimura: 4-5
Alfred Reiter: 3-4
Albert Döhmen: 4

Py´s staging: 4

Armin Jordan: 4

Overall impression: 4

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