Tristan und Isolde, Glyndebourne, August 2009


This was Glyndebourne’s 2003 production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, revived in 2007, 2008, and again this year under revival director Daniel Dooner. It works terrifically well, with a set by Roland Aeschlimann featuring a broken vortex of huge curved girders. While the vortex alters only slightly from act to act, the main variation comes from the wonderful lighting by Robin Carter. There was no comparison with the cold and incoherent production I saw in Bayreuth three weeks ago, and musically it was better too, with Glyndebourne’s music director Vladimir Jurowski conducting the London Philharmonic with restraint and sensitivity. Unlike Bayreuth, this Glyndebourne production gives a focus to the opera by having essentially the same set throughout, so things can gradually build in intensity until the Liebestod, after which the audience remained silent for a few moments while a square opening surrounding Isolde slowly closed itself off.

The singers all did a fine job, with Ian Storey standing in at the last minute for Torsten Kerl as Tristan. Anja Kampe, whom I saw in February giving a fine performance of Senta in the Royal Opera’s production of Holländer, sang Isolde, but I felt she didn’t quite rise above the orchestra at the end. Her companion Brangäne was sympathetically portrayed by Sarah Connelly, and Tristan’s companion Kurwenal was sung by Polish baritone Andrzej Dobber, who came over very strongly in the last Act. Melot was Trevor Scheunemann, and German bass Georg Zeppenfeld sang a powerful and nuanced King Mark. His understanding and forgiveness of Tristan in the last act was beautifully done, and Ian Storey responded well as Tristan. This was fine acting with both body and voice, and Zeppenfeld gave a fitting lead-in to the final love-death of Isolde.

Three down and one to go. In 2008 the Metropolitan Opera’s cinema screening was excellent, this year Bayreuth was a great disappointment, but now Glyndebourne has made up for it. Let’s hope the new Royal Opera production compares to the two good ones, not the bad one. Oddly enough all four directors are German: Daniel Dorn for the Met, Christof Marthaler for Bayreuth, Nikolaus Lehnhoff for Glyndebourne, and Christof Loy for the Royal Opera. I am full of anticipation, but not optimistic, since Loy’s last two operas for Covent Garden have been disappointing. He inserted a middle-aged lesbian composer into Ariadne auf Naxos, making a nonsense of the interaction with Zerbinetta, which is a focal point of the opera, and he turned Lulu into an incredibly cold affair with stationary singers who might as well have been giving a concert performance. Will Tristan also be cold, like Marthaler’s awful Bayreuth production? I shall report again after the first night on September 29th.

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