Not a complete disaster, but a bad Tristan really brings the side down
Just for the record, Tristan Und Isolde is my favourite Wagner opera(though I love them all) so I saw this 2002 Liceu production based on my love for the opera despite the consensus being underwhelming. I have to say that on the whole I was disappointed. It is not as bad as the 1998 Waltraud Meier/Jon Fredric West performance, but for better Tristans watch the 1983 Rene Kollo/Johanna Meier or 1995 Waltraud Meier/ Siegfried Jerusalem productions.
Actually, this Tristan is not entirely irredeemable. The orchestral playing has much power and play the prelude to Act 1 and the Liebestod with the right amount of pathos, and while Bertrand De Billy's conducting lacks poetry in places it is a solid reading overall. Of the performances, the most consistent was the outstanding Brangane of Lioba Braun, Brangane's relationship with Isolde is the opera's most interesting and it was in the Act 1 exchanges where the production was most compelling. Braun's acting is suitably sympathetic and her singing is firm. Deborah Polaski does not have the most beautiful of voices, going squally under pressure, but does excellently in the quieter passages. You also really feel Isolde's anger and sadness here, the anger seethes and the sadness affects.
Falk Struckmann is a loyal Kurwenal, though I do find his vocal production uneven. When soft it is a very sensitive and noble sound, louder however it is rather unsteady(in the past 10 years or so the most focused vocally Struckmann has been was in the 2009 Meistersinger where he played Hans Sachs). In regards to Kurwenal, and I blame Kirchner rather than Struckmann, what was disappointing from a dramatic standpoint is that it is never clear out of Kurwenal and Tristan in this performance who is working for who. Eric Halfvarson vocally very powerful, looks imposing and doesn't stand there and sing. However, I wasn't sure whether it was to do with Halfvarson or Kirchner, but while I find King Marke to be either the most sympathetic character of the opera or a bore depending on the performance, I found Halfvarson's Marke to be neither. I actually found him not dignified enough or as moving as one would want, if anything he came across as too severe and bitter.
But what really let the side down was John Treleaven, who is down there with Jon Fredric West in the 1998 performance as the worst Tristan I've heard or seen. On the vocal front he has a very wobbly and hollow sound that makes you think that the role is too heavy for him, and dramatically I have no better news. He has no chemistry with either Polaski or Struckmann, is the complete opposite of noble and heroic(not helped by the fact that with the stubble and greasy hair that he is in bad shape) and looks startled a lot of the time actually. The Act 2 love duet was never poignant or exciting, and you could really tell that Treleaven was taxed by Act 3, it is a very difficult act I give you that but how many tenors actually make it sound as though it is that? Not many.
Visually, the production is also poor. The whole production looks very dark and cold, with only Act 3 being remotely striking, while the costumes are bland and the staging more often than not is static. The sound seemed lacking for me as well, the voices especially are not very well blended or recorded, coming across as compact and rolled-off. All in all, has some good things to make it better than it is(especially Braun), but has big problems like Treleaven's Tristan that just cannot make me recommend it. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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