Tristan und Isolde (Royal Opera, Orchestra of ROH cond. Antonio Pappano)
There’s an old clip of Birgitte Nillson singing the liebestod in concert. The rather prim and proper audience, buttoned-up seem to visible melt as the music, and the song, works its magic like one of Isolde’s mum’s potions. It shows her power as singer, and of Wagner’s music. Undoubtedly one of the great Isoldes, the effect even in this quality and extraction is terrifying. It gives something of a flavour of Nina Stemme in the superlative Tristan at the ROH.
Lefoy has pared back and stripped the whole thing to its core. A vaguely-maritime industrial-grey stage with floor at an angle; a rich, royal purple curtain divides this from a largely drawn sort of stripped neo-Classical dining room, reminiscent of an officer’s mess. All quite conservative in a way, andand successful In the dining-room the assembled candlesticks from the all-male dinner surround Isolde at one point; these are the day which prevents the night in which her love for Tristan can flourish only. Light and dark, night and day, life and death.
In this space, shadows fall. The psycho-sexual before Freud; sexual domination and physical threat; this is the opera and Loy lets it breathe and tell its stories.
There isn’t a weak link vocally. Some reviewers suggested Tomlinson is past his prime. Indeed he may have passed his apogee, but his presence and voice are remarkable. Sarah Connolly sings and acts a wonderful Brangäne; Paterson’s Kurenwal and Cooper’s Melot are fine too. All the singing is consummate and powerful. Without a doubt, Stemme is the Isolde of her generation, and Gould is almost certainly the Tristan of his; they make for a very fine pairing indeed.
The music, it goes without saying, under Pappano's labours, summoned great strength and power
What this production tells us overall, I think, is that there are forces at work in the universe, and within our minds, which we cannot quite comprehend. Great powers that may bring all joy and all sorrow. The clarity with which this, and so much more, are told is the genius of this staging and performance.
Overall: The whole production, from start to finish is a terrifying showing of power. Perfectly sublime and perfectly beautiful at once.
Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Director: Christof Loy
Sailor: Ed Lyon
Isolde: Nina Stemme
Brangäne: Sarah Connolly
Kurenwal: Iain Paterson
Tristan: Stephen Gould
Melot: Neal Cooper
King Marke: John Tomlinson
Shepherd: Graham Clark
Steersman: Yuriy Yurchuk