Tristan und Isolde review – haunting revival of 2009 production

Royal Opera House, London
The ever-more expressive Nina Stemme continue to refine her Isolde in this admirably conducted revival of Christof Loy’s 2009 production

Christof Loy’s production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is receiving its first revival some five years after it was first seen in 2009. Loy has reworked it a bit. It’s tauter, less reflective than I remember it. He makes more of Melot (Neal Cooper) than he did, or than he needs to, since his presence in act one is unnecessary and rather confusing. Otherwise, the over-arching idea is very much the same. A vast purple curtain separates the neutral space where the lovers (Stephen Gould and Nina Stemme) hold their colloquies from the glittery day-to-day world they ceaselessly, but unavailingly strive to escape. It’s haunting, if a bit cerebral for a work that many consider primarily erotic.

Stemme is remarkable, often thrilling. She’s never been one to rest on laurels, and Isolde is a role she continues to refine. A touch of metal has crept into the tone at full throttle, but her expressive range is greater than before, her psychological insights even more complex and startling. Gould, towering over her, took a while to get into his stride on opening night. The sound is steely and on occasion massive, though his soft singing, of which there wasn’t quite enough, can be beautiful. His delirium in act three, where many interpreters tire, is powerhouse stuff and astonishingly vivid.

There are fine things elsewhere. Iain Paterson is the striking Kurwenal, Sarah Connolly the warm-toned Brangäne. John Tomlinson – whose voice is fraying a bit, but whose artistry remains marvellous – is the anguished Marke. Ed Lyon’s Sailor and Graham Clark’s Shepherd make this a real luxury cast. Tristan remains arguably the finest of Antonio Pappano’s Wagner interpretations: he conducts it with great, at times almost visceral sensuality, yet also with admirable control. Very fine.

Until 21 December. Venue: Royal Opera House, London. Buy tickets from theguardianboxoffice.com or call on 0330 333 6906.

Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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