Wonderful supporting cast, powerful orchestral playing and beautiful production values, but while committed dramatically the two leads are past their best vocally
Tristan Und Isolde? What can I say, other than to say of all of Wagner's amazing operas that it's my favourite. It's the one that moves me the most, and while all Wagner's music is magnificent(if not the easiest of composers to warm to at first) some of his most beautiful music is there, the Liebestod is second only to the Meistersinger Quintet as the most beautiful piece Wagner wrote. The Prelude to Act 1 also has me in floods of tears, it is so emotional and yearning.
I found this production to be good, but not great. I do prefer the 1983, 1995, 1967 and 1974 performances over this time, but at the same time it is more preferable to the 1998, 2002 and 2009 productions. I found despite some major faults that there were several good, great even, assets about it. It is very effective visually. The costumes and sets are both beautifully done and atmospheric. Act 1 may seem empty for example, but to fit with stage director Gotz Friederich's concept of isolation in a world that doesn't understand that approach was both necessary and effective.
But what was so special actually about the production values was the lighting. The best use of it was during the climax of the Liebsnacht, where the stage is in darkness apart from Jones and Kollo in the spotlight. Gradually that fades away to abstractness to add to that sense of separation. I found that a very powerful piece of imagery. Friederich's stage direction is great as well. He is well-known for his direction of singers, and that comes through loud and clear, especially with Brangane. The best bits of staging were Jones, Kollo and Schwarz in spotlights which reinforced Friederich's concept of isolation, and with the same idea in mind Schwarz and Lloyd drift away during the Liebestod also. All five leads I have to say show real commitment to their singing, and apart from them all being excellent actors Friederich is to thank for that.
Where visually there is a let down is occasionally with the video directing, mostly fine but also too many close-ups and some of them are marred by the irritating use of rigging and a camera lens that was in serious need of a clean. That said, the sound was good. The orchestral playing is marvellous, really powerful with the Act 2 duet having that sense of exciting eroticism and the Act 1 Prelude which had that yearning emotional turmoil feel. Jiri Kout's conducting is solid on the whole, if a little uncertain to start with.
The performances on the whole I was really impressed with. In the lead roles, neither Gwyneth Jones or Rene Kollo are bad, far from it, just that I have heard much better from them. Jones you can see clearly that she is an intelligent singer, who gives her all to everything she does. You do feel Isolde's passion, fiery anger and sadness throughout the opera. I just feel as though Jones could have been better vocally if she had done it 10 years earlier, here the voice has lost some of its power though the love duet and Liebestod climaxes are very well sung, and she as well as swooping between notes is wobbly and flat a lot of the time. Kollo is not as problematic, the thing is he has sung Tristan better than this in the best Tristan on DVD. Kollo is not as stiff as I thought he might be, he is very heroic and noble actually and gives the taxing third act its sense of yearning. Like Jones though his voice has seen better days, he improves actually later on, but there is signs of strain and some of his attack in Act 2 is a tad too slack.
I have to say though the supporting cast are just wonderful. In particular Hanna Schwarz whose Brangane is simply outstanding. Some may prefer a soprano in the role, Schwarz is just right for me actually. It is a juicy, commanding voice, and she has great rapport with Jones. Brangane is made to seem like a sister and best friend, which is something I loved, as well as how optimistic in Act 1 and then warning in Act 2 she is. Gerd Feldhoff is great as Kurwenal, loyal and sympathetic with a virile voice. His final scenes do evoke poignancy. Not but not least, Robert Lloyd. While not quite succeeding in making King Marke the most sympathetic character of the opera, Lloyd is certainly not dull either. He sings richly, and is very dignified and moving, especially his final words. His Act 2 monologue is also a highlight, nobly sung and somewhat exciting.
On the whole, a good Tristan Und Isolde, but could have been even better. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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