Tristan und Isolde, Grange Park Opera, July 2016

What a superb end to the season, their last at The Grange before moving to the Theatre in the Woods now being constructed at West Horsley Place in Surrey. This Company really knows how to do things, and when Anja Kampe as Isolde, and Clive Bayley as King Marke had to pull out, they found marvellous replacements in Rachel Nicholls and Mats Almgren, recently seen as Fafner and Hagen in the Opera North Ring.

Ms Nicholls is extraordinary as Isolde, a role she has already sung in Germany, Italy and indeed in Britain at Longborough last summer. Her performance now reveals hidden depths of anger before the love potion in Act I after which she becomes transformed. Here in this relatively small auditorium her voice feels so immediate, so close, yet seems to draw energy from a goddess at the edge of the world. With effortless power in the Act II love duet, and an ability to soar above the orchestra in the Liebestod, her performance was spellbinding.

As Tristan, American tenor Bryan Register gave a sterling performance, blending his voice well with hers in Act II, and really coming into his own in Act III as he moved with superb emotional nuance between contemplation and passion in a twilight world combining day and night. His servant Kurwenal was sung with huge vocal nobility by Stephen Gadd, whose strength and directness made a stark contrast to the bandy-legged clownishness recently portrayed in the English National Opera production. How refreshing it is to have a concert performance with no foolish directorial concepts to get in the way. The singers themselves know how to portray the roles. Rachel Nicholls was wonderful in this respect with her arm movements and positioning on stage, and Mats Almgren as King Marke was superb, his body language evincing huge sadness and his lyrical bass great eloquence in contemplating Tristan’s betrayal in Act II. His appalled reaction to the death and devastation of Act III exhibited wonderful sympathy and infinite weariness that no director could arrange better as he seated himself at stage rear, his bald head contemplating the infinite expanse of night as Isolde began her Liebestod.

This was essentially a concert performance but with a few props and the Don Carlo sets at the rear providing excellent sound reflection for both orchestra and singers. The Brangäne of Sara Fulgoni came over with enormous power, and in the supporting role of Melot, Felix Kemp was of admirably firm voice, and Adam Tunnicliffe sang with excellent clarity as the Young Sailor in Act I and Shepherd in Act III.

Altogether a really memorable performance with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra playing superbly under the musical direction of Martyn Brabbins. A perfect ending to the Company’s residence at The Grange, with one final performance on Saturday, July 16.

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