Tristan und Isolde

Steven Sloane
Opera North Chorus and Orchestra
24 February 2001
The Lowry Manchester
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanMark Lundberg
IsoldeSusan Bullock
BrangäneAnne-Marie Owens
KurwenalJohn Wegner
König MarkeDonald McIntyre
MelotChristopher Booth-Jones
Ein junger SeemannPeter Bronder
Ein HirtPeter Bronder
SteuermannDominic Burns
The Guardian

Opera North achieved equal wonders with its semi-staging of Tristan und Isolde, sung in German in the cavernous and richly civic splendour of Cuthbert Brodrick’s Town Hall. Opened in 1858, the same year Wagner was putting the finishing touches to the score of Tristan, it might have been built for the occasion.

The space had been imaginatively transformed, with orchestra and conductor obscured behind a black gauze, sometimes in darkness, at others (especially when the music demanded) eerily illuminated. Despite a back injury, Steven Sloane elicited a finely etched performance, though at times the languorous speeds threat ened to defeat all concerned.

This expansive tempo worked in the pulsating climax of Act II and in the preludes, but felt all too ponderous in Tristan’s extended soliloquy in the following act, when he yearns to die and curses the potion which brought about his downfall. In the libretto, this exposition seems to occupy only a few lines. Seeing it on stage, it’s hard to understand quite how it manages to take him so long that eventually we join in his yearning.

Mark Lundberg saved his voice for this challenge delivered largely supine from his theatrical sick-bed. If not yet fully expressive, he nevertheless negotiated the notes successfully in this most tiring of roles. Donald McIntyre, a great Wotan in his day, brought simple dignity to King Marke, with John Wegner (Kurwenal) and Anne-Marie Owens (Brangane) also outstanding. Keith Warner’s direction was intelligent and full of rewarding detail.

Unhindered by surtitles (a topic on which I am equivocal since their value depends on context, musical style, acoustics, singers’ diction and other variable), the opera gravitates back to the musicians, allowing the score to tell the story. The real star was the English soprano Susan Bullock singing her first Isolde, without strain or difficulty. There is nothing her voice cannot master. She can also convey the various facets of this perverse, maddening, impassioned woman.

Four performances remain (in Leeds and on tour). See if you can find five-and-half hours or so to spare. Isolde may be none too bright (and Tristan’s a match for her in that as well) but love is not the province of the brainy. In Susan Bullock’s performance she has what Dante called l’intelletto d’amore, the learning that is love itself.

Fiona Maddocks | 4 February 2001

The Telegraph

Despite a heart-breaking number of empty seats, Opera North’s Tristan und Isolde proved a tremendous success. Adequately staged by Keith Warner on the platform of the magnificent barrel-vaulted Leeds Town Hall, it was distinguished by Steven Sloane’s silkily warm and fluent conducting, which fell short only in its failure to screw the mounting tension of Act 3 sufficiently tight. Susan Bullock’s voice may lack the blade and the beauty of the ideal Isolde, but she gives a reading of admirable musicality, intelligence and skill, enunciating the text with an understanding that goes beyond clarity of diction.

Mark Lundberg sang Tristan securely and tirelessly: there wasn’t much in the way of characterisation, but one must be grateful for anyone who can hit and hold the right notes.

Glorious singing from Anne-Marie Owens as Brangane, the sterling Kurwenal and Marke of John Wegner and Donald McIntyre, and the committed playing of the English Northern Philharmonia, all contributed to a fine performance, received with enthusiasm by a raptly attentive audience. But why provide librettos without any light to read them by? Why not provide surtitles? In fact, why sing it in German at all?

Rupert Christiansen | 30 Jan 2001

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 526 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording of a semi-staged performance
A production by Keith Warner