Musically and vocally amazing, visually and dramatically dull
I do say this with a heavy heart, as I adore Tristan Und Isolde. Of all Wagner's operas, all of which I hold in high regard, it is my favourite as the music just moves me so much. This production from Bayreuth is better then the 1998 Jon Fredric West/Meier and 2007/8 Stemme/Gambill performances, but for more satisfying productions see the 1983 Kollo/Johanna Meier, 1967 Nilsson/Windgassen and 1995 Waltraud Meier/Jerusalem performances.
Musically actually I can't fault it. The orchestral playing positively sweeps, suitably erotic in the Act 2 love duet yet with the right amount of pathos for the Prelude to Act 1 and the Liebestod. The conducting from Peter Schneider is never too fast nor does it resort to funeral-march like tempos, while not quite as enigmatic as Daniel Barenboim's(for example) it makes its mark. The performances are also spot on on the whole. Irene Theorin's Isolde is outstanding, singing fully and expressively with a beautifully rounded middle register and the high Cs are effortless. Dramatically, I found her to be the most consistent of the cast, hugely detailed and committed. The Liebestod is very poignant and I did feel Isolde's anger and conflicted feelings in Act 1.
Robert Dean Smith is a little better than he was in the 2008 Met production, where I did think he was excellent and enjoyed the production also. Here he is more confident and sings with more ring to his tone. Vocally he is quite powerful and doesn't resort to blustering or shouting in the taxing third act like some Tristans do. Part of me though wishes he was better directed, because while he does display good chemistry with Theorin and delivers Act 3 with such impassioned yearning Christoph Marthaler's stage direction never really enabled the singers to really delve into the roles on the whole.
Jukka Rasilanen delivers a Kurwenal that is loyal, sympathetic and very touching(which is what Kurwenal I feel should be), singing with a sonority that one would expect from this particular role. He is at his best in the third act, where Kurwenal's sympathy for and loyalty to Tristan really comes through here. As King Marke, Robert Holl's singing occasionally is a little unsteady, nonetheless, while not quite succeeding making Marke the most sympathetic character of the opera like Rene Pape, Hans Hotter, Matti Salminen and Martti Talvela do, especially in his Act 2 monologue it is a moving performance.
Michelle Breedt's Brangane is sometimes shrill under pressure and again Marthaler doesn't really do much to develop Isolde and Brangane's relationship(the most interesting relationship actually in Tristan Und Isolde) even further, however most of her singing is strong and she remains in character throughout. Despite such good singing however, I did find the production dull. Dramatically there are some fine moments indeed, such as Theorin in Act 1 and Smith in Act 3(which was by far the most consistent act of the three in this respect), but a lot of the time the singers are made to act emotionless and static. For example, Marke's reaction to the treachery is little more than re-buttoning Isolde's jacket, which was a superfluous touch to me.
Visually, there is little better news. By all means it is not as ugly as the 1998 production, but everything in the costumes, sets and lighting feels rather drab and colourless. The sound quality sounds rather echoey, and when the singers are at the back of the stage for example in the Act 2 duet the voices are not always balanced with the orchestra, almost as if at times the sound was favouring the orchestra when ideally it should be an even balance. Overall, the musical side of the production was really great with Theorin and the singing in Act 3 especially outstanding, but the generally emotionless staging, drab visual design and unbalanced audio quality bring things down. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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