Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House, review: Overwhelming and emotionally magnificent

We will never see a more perfect Isolde than Nina Stemme

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The Independent Culture

‘On the stage walk sounds, not people,’ wrote a perceptive German critic of Tristan, and that could be a summing up of the philosophy underlying Christof Loy’s cinematic and psychologically acute staging, now revived at Covent Garden.

There’s no boat, no sense of place, no medieval clutter; the costumes and acting suggest a timeless present; glimpses of a banquet which is revealed when a curtain is intermittently drawn back punctuate the action with tellingly symbolic images. What drives this production is Wagner’s mesmerising music.

Antonio Pappano and his orchestra have never been on better form, fuelling the drama with oceanic power and delivering superb solos, most notably from the cor anglais in Act Three. And there’s no weak link in the cast.

Iain Patterson makes an unusually memorable Kurwenal, and John Tomlinson’s King Marke offers a moving study in the impotence of old age. Sarah Connolly’s Louise Brooks-style Brangane is exquisitely sung, coming across as surprisingly girlish vis-à-vis the towering duo in the title roles.

To say that Stephen Gould’s Tristan measures up to Nina Stemme’s Isolde is the highest possible praise, because what this great Swedish soprano does with her Herculean role is technically, dramatically, and emotionally magnificent beyond words.

We will never see a more perfect Isolde than this.