Tristan und Isolde, Wagner, Glyndebourne Festival Opera
Friday 07 August 2009
For this third revival of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s mesmerisingly still and stylised 2003 staging, all ears were on Vladimir Jurowski, conducting his first
Tristan und Isolde in the theatre. Perhaps not surprisingly (the process is a slow one) his reading was not yet the sum of its parts. You might speak of it being at the stage of discovery where aspects of its realisation are more studied than organic; but already he is feeling the febrile pulse of the opera and, equally importantly, is ready to lose himself and us in those moments of stasis that are so daringly out of time and space.
You hear it in the opening phrase of the prelude where his slightly self-conscious morendo ("dying") effect on the note leading us to the harmonically indeterminate "Tristan chord" lends telling uncertainty to the deafening silence of our arrival in no-man's-land. One day we will be unaware of how he achieves that. One day. For now the feverish highs and tremulous lows achieve an often startling newness under the committed fingers of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It is in itself an achievement that we do not take a single bar for granted.
So what else of quality does this revival bring? It brings the Brangane of Sarah Connolly (a late replacement) whose "foolish devotion" is carried on singing of great passion and amplitude; it brings the magnificently sung King Marke of Georg Zeppenfeld whose hurt is sunk even deeper than Wagner’s bass clarinet (wonderful) can plumb; and it brings a storming Isolde from Anja Kampe.
Tristan himself is problematic. Oddly enough, the delirium of the inhuman third act (the death, literally, of many a Tristan) wrung out the best of Torsten Kerl. But he was so colourless and found so little beauty in the second act's "night of love" that Isolde's ecstasy seemed unfounded. That heart-stopping premonition of the liebestod went for nothing - unfocused and ill-tuned.
But Anja Kampe's Isolde did that rare thing of channelling the energy of her anger and pride into rapture. I worry that her big refulgent voice will start to spread under the pressure of her unstinting temperament - but her ardour is unequivocally thrilling and touching by turns.
The Wieland Wagner-like stylisations of Lehnhoff's staging (revived here by Daniel Dooner) drench us in colour and light as surely as Wagner’s radical harmony. The final image of Isolde floating, shimmering freely in disembodied space is as close to an image of Nirvana as you’ll likely get in the theatre.
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