Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Tristan und Isolde - Bayreuther Festspiele 2015

(This review is based on the live cinema broadcast on 7th August 2015)

A special occasion on the Green Hill: this year Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan und Isolde" celebrates the 150 year-anniversary of its premier in Munich. A reason strong enough to pick the opera as the new production of this year's Bayreuther Festspiele. And even more special: Wagner's great granddaughter & festival intendant, Katharina Wagner, is in charge of the staging.

Simply an improvement: many were quite disappointed with Katharina's interpretation of "Mesitersinger" seven years ago. The staging was constantly booed during its first summer run, it got better during the following summers, but the public and critics agree that it's not a brilliant production. This year's "Tristan und Isolde" under her direction might give a fresh wind to her reputation as a stage director. In many interviews she stated that the work for Tristan already started since about 5 years ago and the production is built upon an intensive collaboration with Christian Thielemann.

Act one. Tristan & Isolde were trapped in a dark surreal world of stairs. The stairs lead to nowhere, they can't find each other. Christa Mayer's very expressive Brangane has probably a little psychosis in her past. More stairs were broken or tear apart by Kurwenal. Isolde was longing to see Trsitan. Brangane & Kurwenal worsened the situation. Tristan & Isolde didn't drink the "Liebestrank" (love potion), in a grand gesture they poured it upon their holding hands.

Act two. No romantic garden but a torture chamber. King Marke and Melot observed the love couple from the upper balcony of the stage. It looked a little bit silly while both our main characters built a small fabric tent and hung a star-shaped Christmas ornament. The most unromantic 'Liebesnacht' I've ever seen. Georg Zeppenfeld appeared in yellow 1920's gangster suit with fur, delivering his solo monologue in a charismatic manner.

Act three. Darkness. Kurwenal & co. sat around Tristan's body lying on the floor. Tristan woke up. In the vast darkness he saw different distorted visions of Isolde, appeared before him in a triangle room, a motive that dominates the whole production. Isolde arrived, Tristan died. While giving the closing monologue "Mild und leise" (Isolde's Liebestod), Isolde held Tristan's dead body - both sitting on his deathbed facing the audience. Isolde's mind and soul is out of world. King Marke smirked, then held Isolde's hand, dragging her away from Tristan's deathbed. La fin.

Stephen Gould is definitely the, or one of the, leading Tristan of our time. With every single note perfectly sung and the optimal voice strength held through the night, it's hard to point out any flaw of his interpretation. Although some parts during 'Liebesnacht' were sung quite in a static, emotionless manner, I honestly wouldn't elaborate it.

Evelyn Herlitzius, who bravely agreed to replace Anja Kampe 4 weeks before the premiere, has made a magnificent improvement in the past 2 weeks. Compared to her performance during the premiere (that I heard live through BR Klassik), her enunciation is definitely much better. As usual, Herlitizus digs deep into her role and gave a very expressive Isolde.  The main problem with Herlitizus is actually the character of her voice that I personally feel doesn't really fit for the role of Isolde. She is definitely the ultimate Elektra, Salome, and Ortrud, but Isolde?

Both Georg Zeppenfeld and Christa Mayer gave outstanding performances in their roles. Their singing is very expressive and the pronunciation is very clear. Not to mention that Katharina's staging also give a new exciting dimension towards the interpretation of both characters.

Iain Paterson gave a very convincing Kurwenal, both vocally and theatrically.

Both Raimund Nolte as Melot and Tansel Akzeybek as Young Seeman are solid addition to the cast, even though their voices are not necessarily specific for "Wagner Fach".

Thielemann's conducting is everything. It's way more precious than diamonds or gold. Every single note, tempo, and pause is precisely calculated. Now he should make another Tristan recording, definitely a way better one than his previous recording in Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) in 2004.

Summary: The production is neutral. Theielmann is a god in Bayreuth. The cast is superb with a small room of improvements.

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