TRISTAN AND ISOLDE: Richard Wagner
Runs: 5h 15m, two intervals
Review: Alexander Ray; Hippodrome, Birmingham; 16 06 12
Marvellous production, excellent Isolde.Much of the talk in the two intervals was of the fine performance by Ann Petersen as Isolde. It is a performance of great beauty.
Wagner has honed his huge story of the conflict between romantic and heroic love, of honour, duty and revenge, of light and dark even, to the bones. The narrative is sparse but the music takes us to the level of great emotional sweeps.
Petersen’s performance perfectly matches this style. Her acting is cut back to only that which is necessary (no huge empty gestures), yet Isolde’s thought processes are clear to see. Petersen encompasses the great emotions with apparent ease. Her voice, beautifully grounded at all times, rises above the music, incandescent with power and subtlety. Like all great performers, she has the power to draw us into her journey and into the world of the play.
Imagine our surprise then, when, at the beginning of the third act comes the announcement that Petersen is suffering from swollen vocal chords and, fearful of causing permanent damage to her voice, is to be replaced by Anna-Katharina Behnke whom WNO had flown over to be on standby.
Behnke took on the mammoth task of entering the opera at Act III; a very different quality, lighter, somehow more vulnerable. She rose to the challenge of Liebestod and created a most moving conclusion to the work.
Ben Heppner cannot match Petersen’s acting ability, a shame because his voice is excellent. Particularly in Act III in the long sweeps of melody.
Petersen and Heppner duets are to die for, though their love scene is a little too platonic for the raging passions that are the basis for this work.
This is a fine company from WNO; Susan Bickley (Brangane) and Matthew Best (King Marke) also outstanding. Petersen and Bickley together in Act I are electric.
This pared back production, directed and designed by Yannis Kokkos, is taken at a vigorous pace by Lothar Koenigs ensuring that even the longeurs are never too long.
Sailor: Simon Crosby Buttle
Helmsman: Julian Boyce
Isolde: Ann Petersen
Brangane: Susan Bickley
Kurwenal: Philip Joll
Tristan: Ben Heppner
Helot: Simon Thorpe
King Marke: Matthew Best
Shepherd: Simon Crosby Buttle
Conductor: Lothar Keonigs
Director and Designer: Yannis Kokkos
Revival Director: Peter Watson
Original Lighting Designer: Guido Levi
Lighting Realised by: Paul Woodfield
Fiight Director: Kevin McCurdy