Tristan und Isolde, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, July 2013

rah140x1051One of the great things about opera at the Proms, apart from the avoidance of strange fancies by the stage director, is being able to see the orchestra and instrumental soloists. This was particularly valuable towards the end of Act I as the chorus of sailors at the rear made their presence felt, and the trombones suddenly raised their instruments. Then as Tristan orders dropping the anchor he grasps the drink from Isolde, and when the ship docks an array of brass appears up by the organ — wonderful.

A similar welcome feature was the cor anglais solo by Alison Teale in Act III. Separated from the orchestra and caught in a spotlight behind the stalls on stage right, she played beautifully. But despite the splendid presence of orchestra and instrumentalists, the singers were for the most part poorly placed, Brangäne the one exception. From their positions in front of the orchestra they simply stood or sat, and even when one killed another they were on opposite sides of the conductor. This despite having a production advisor on the staff of the Royal Opera. His name and photo were boldly displayed next to conductor Semyon Bychkov, before mentioning the singers, while the cor anglais soloist had to make do with a small symbol in the small type of the orchestra cast list. Something wrong here.

But nothing wrong with Semyon Bychkov and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The playing in the Act II gave  depth to the love duet, and in Act III as Tristan foreshadows the start of Isolde’s Liebestod with his Wie sie selig, hehr und milde … Bychokov breathed new life into the orchestra.

The last time I saw Robert Dean Smith as Tristan was in Bayreuth in a dreadful production with second-rate conducting, and he did well to take over here at short notice from Peter Seiffert. Violeta Urmana as Isolde gave a fine performance of a role she has sung many times, and Kwangchul Youn was a brilliant King Marke, providing superb diction in the long monologue Mir dies? from Act II, and a gripping delivery of Tot denn alles! in Act III.

Among the lesser roles, Israeli baritone Boaz Daniel was a nobly voiced Kurwenal of great power, Andrew Staples a very fine young sailor and shepherd, and Mihoko Fujimura a stunning Brangäne. Her Einsam wachend, delivered from the organ during the love duet of Act II, had a glorious purity, and in Sie wacht! Sie lebt! towards the end of Act III her voice rose to ethereal realms.

Congratulations to the BBC Proms for bringing in such fine performers of the supporting roles,and at a mere £5 for a standing place — no prior booking needed. I look forward to Götterdämmerung tomorrow.

2 Responses to “Tristan und Isolde, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, July 2013”

  1. Paul Darlow says:

    I thought this was an exceptionally poor performance – weak singing and an orchestra that wasn’t managed at all , resulting in the singers frequently being swamped by the orchestra. Possibly some of the worst conducting I have seen.

  2. R Waight says:

    We were up in the circle and there the voices were often inaudible and the temperature was so hot it became a test of endurance. The following day, we heard gotterdamerung from comfortable box seats and it was cooler and wonderful. The RAH really should do something about its air conditioning.

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