Tristan und Isolde, Longborough, LFO, June 2015Posted on 17 June 2015
This opera opened in Munich on 10 June 1865, so the Longborough production is very much a sesqui-centenary. And LFO did it proud with a dramatically intense performance of this “most musical of Wagner’s works” under the baton of Anthony Negus, who conducted the Ring here two years ago. As soon as the first bars emerged from the orchestra I was transfixed, and with Rachel Nicholls — the Brünnhilde in that Ring cycle — as Isolde the cast included pure gold.
As her handmaid Brangäne, Catherine Carby sang beautifully. When Act II got underway her Wehe! at providing the drink came over with huge power, and Isolde’s response about Frau Minne, supplemented with great lyricism by the orchestra, rose to heights of barely restrained passion — I felt privileged to be witnessing this superb scene, and it only got better. Peter Wedd’s dramatic Tristan matched her most wonderfully, his So starben wir leading into a most glorious final duet before Marke and Melot enter. As the lovers stood together in front of a vertical dividing section of the rectangular set, the golden light from behind hinted at the golden section before their rapture was suddenly extinguished and a lone bass clarinetist took up her place where they had been. Marke’s anguished soliloquy about Tristan’s betrayal was then delivered by Frode Olsen with ineffable sadness in voice, appearance and body language — a wonderful moment.
As Kurwenal, Stuart Pendred showed determined aggression and a strong vocal line, as did Ben Thapa as Melot, and I loved the way Pendred expressed his determined loyalty to Tristan. The clarity of feelings in this opera was well expressed by the staging, with its excellent designs by Kimie Nakano and lighting by Ben Ormerod, only spoiled by one thing — the dancers. No matter how beautiful their movements, nor how transitory their appearances, they were a distraction. Eyes closed was my solution, and although I adore ballet this is not the place for it. Director Carmen Jakobi, who worked in association with Alan Privett on the Ring cycle, has otherwise overseen excellent positioning of singers on stage, and marvellously simple designs with very effective lighting. I particularly loved the setting of Act III as the pre-dawn light slowly increased in power, dimming again towards the end as we enter the lovers’ twilight world.
But in the end it was Rachel Nicholls whose natural modesty and effortless singing swept all aside, ending a fabulous musical evening under the superb baton of Anthony Negus.
Performances continue until June 20 only — for details click here.