Tristan und Isolde

Eve Queler
The New York Choral Society
Opera Orchestra of New York
9 February 1997
Carnegie Hall New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanHeikki Siukola
IsoldeElizabeth Connell
BrangänePetra Lang
KurwenalClayton Brainerd
König MarkeGreg L. Ryerson
MelotJoel Sorensen
Ein junger SeemannRobert Breault
Ein HirtRobert Breault
SteuermannFrank Barr
The New York Times

Relax, Wagnerians: ‘Tristan’ Voices Are on the Way

Forecasters tell us that the ”Tristan und Isolde” drought is almost over. Wagner’s disturbing hymn to sensuality has survived in recent years mostly in smaller European houses, where less than heroic voices have coped (barely) with its rigors. ”Tristan” is stirring again. The Los Angeles Opera has revived its David Hockney production, and major companies domestic and foreign, cheered by a new generation of singers, have put it on their schedules.

To keep us going until then, the Opera Orchestra of New York under Eve Queler operated as a gracious interim provider on Sunday afternoon, filling five hours at Carnegie Hall with a concert version of the piece. One entered at 1 o’clock wondering how Ms. Queler’s fascinating if sometimes haphazard performance style would deal with all the special burdens. One exited at 6 surprisingly gratified and not a little grateful.

The heart of ”Tristan” is in the orchestra, and Ms. Queler led hers well. If this is at bottom a pick-up group, the level of players was high for this occasion and they were well rehearsed. Most of these floating New York musicians have never played a Wagner opera before; they seemed fascinated by the experience.

Ms. Queler does the famous prelude slowly. Urgency gives way to calm. Instead of pounding hearts there are sensual pleasures slowly tasted. The wonderful woodwind colors were nicely balanced; the strings sounded lovely. There were mishaps and small miscommunications, but what ”Tristan” performance is without them?

Heikki Siukola was Tristan, Elizabeth Connell Isolde. Both roles ask too much, and Wagnerites have learned that each functions as a collection of moving parts, all of which are not expected to work well at the same time. Ms. Connell has most of Isolde’s authentic qualities. The stamina is there, also the sometimes fearsome size, together with intelligent respect for musical values. If some of her upper-register attacks jarred the spine, the quiet of the ”Liebesnacht” was meltingly expressive and as finely articulated as a Schubert song.

Mr. Siukola is a natural tenor, giving his voice the easy, pointed carrying power that most pushed-up baritone voices do not have. When he managed to stay on pitch for any length of time, the value of this kind of voice showed itself. It happened mostly in Act II. Elsewhere Mr. Siukola struggled haplessly with intonation, subverting much of what he could have offered. Diction tended toward ground-up mush. German vowels, when at all distinguishable, could be weird indeed.

Yet he survived. Wagnerians learn to love their heldentenors for that fact alone.

Petra Lang made a splendid impression as Brangane, offering beautifully modulated singing of high intensity. Clayton Brainerd was the sturdy Kurwenal. Greg Ryerson sang King Marke’s monologue (all of it) steadfastly. The men of the New York Choral Society sounded wan and irresolute, I am afraid. They were the afternoon’s weakest link. Robert Breault, Joel Sorensen and Frank Barr took the other parts.

”Tristan” survives and may even prosper without stage pictures. Small theatrical touches on Sunday (the Sailor’s call from an upper balcony) were applied, but without the pretense of mobility; one listened and experienced through sound. Lovers of this astonishing work can never be satisfied with any one performance, but Ms. Queler provided enough of a fix to tide us over for the year. We thank her.

BERNARD HOLLAND | February 11, 1997

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Media Type/Label
MSR Classics
Technical Specifications
504 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 815 MByte (flac)
Concert performance