the overture starts the screen is pitch black with a thin
while line in the middle, which slowly grows. After quite
some time it is possible to read “Tristan und Isolde”. Nothing
else, apart from the text gradually coming even closer. It
is like an Ingmar Bergman film. Sparse. The sparsity remains
when the drama begins. The sets are stylised. A circular,
or rather oval shaped construction with stairs and hidden
openings for entrances and exits. Lighting is essential but
the simplicity is striking and lends timelessness to the performance.
It is no doubt the most beautiful Tristan und Isolde
I have seen. The oval construction can be associated with
an egg, the origin of all human life; it may even be a vagina.
An Ingmar Bergman reference again: Tristan und Isolde is
a five-hour-long sexual intercourse. What finally give us
some clues as to historical time are the costumes: helmets,
togas, coats of mail; and weapons: swords. They establish
the period of the original Tristan story.
who knows this opera and its music also knows that it isn’t
exactly filled with action. The plot unfolds slowly, the music
is to a large extent slow-moving. We are very much in an inner
landscape of feelings and thoughts and the music is hypnotic.
Either one capitulates unreservedly and loses all perception
of time or one panics and runs away – out into the open for
fresh air. Nikolaus Lehnhoff manages to enthral rather than
alienate and Jiří Bĕlohlávek draws luminous playing
from the LPO. Not once did I question his choice of tempo.
With a starry cast that role by role would be hard to beat
anywhere in the world this seems like the Tristan und Isolde
of one’s dreams.
Pape is probably the best German speaking bass today with
an evenly produced and sonorous voice in the Kurt Moll mould.
My only objection is that he sounds too youthful for King
Marke, who is supposed to be a very old man. Bo Skovhus, always
a splendid actor, is an intense and heroic Kurwenal and Katarina
Karnéus is a Brangäne in the Scandinavian tradition - just
remember Kerstin Thorborg - with regal tones.
and Isolde are two of the most demanding roles in all opera
and are often the stumbling-block in most performances. With
such a heavy burden there is an impending risk that they will
fold up before the last act is over. Robert Gambill was Siegmund
on the Naxos recording of Die Walküre - reviewed by
me a year and a half ago. He made a decent stab at that role
but was a bit uneven. Here he is truly impressive almost to
the bitter end. After so many pinched, dry-voiced and barking
Heldentenöre it was a relief to hear the role actually sung
with sap in the voice and with expressive acting to match.
That he began to seem a bit worn in the last act is no wonder
and, after all, he is badly injured and weak so he can’t be
expected to sound unscathed.
Stemme’s Isolde is already a well known capacity from the
EMI recording opposite Domingo a couple of years ago and the
question is if she isn’t a notch better here. Like Gambill
she sings the role and it is a deeply nuanced reading
with beautiful tone and warmth that is rarely heard. This
is as close to perfection it is possible to come.
Wagner lover should see and hear this set and who knows –
even anti-Wagnerians might have to revise their opinions after