Tristan und Isolde

Donald Runnicles
Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin
3 October 2018
Deutsche Oper Berlin
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanPeter Seiffert
IsoldeRicarda Merbeth
BrangäneDaniela Sindram
KurwenalSamuel Youn
König MarkeGeorg Zeppenfeld
MelotThomas Blondelle
Ein junger SeemannMatthew Newlin
Ein HirtPeter Maus
SteuermannBryan Murray

Musical riches at Deutsche Oper’s Tristan und Isolde Absent for a couple of years from Deutsche Oper Berlin’s Spielplan, Graham Vick’s 2011 staging of Wagner’s great hymn to impossible love is back. Its return after the unveiling last season of Dmitri Tcherniakov’s staging at the Staatsoper reveals some superficial similarities between the two: both, at least, updated to smart milieus that preclude the sort of poetry and swirling emotions that should, in any decent performance, rise up from the maelstrom of Wagner’s orchestra.

There the similarities end, though, and Tcherniakov’s staging is traditional in one respect: Act 1 takes place very firmly on board a ship. Here, by contrast, in Paul Brown’s expensive-looking set, we are simultaneously inside and outside a smart house throughout. The stage is split in each act by a wall with several doors leading to different rooms: in Acts 1 and 2 it’s at an angle; in Act 3 it runs parallel with the front of the stage. What constitutes the house’s interior and exterior is never entirely clear.

Other details hove in and out of view, much of their original significance having, one suspects, become diluted in the seven years since the production opened: two naked extras, a vast lamp floating around and descending up and down, young doubles, I think, of both Tristan and Isolde. A drug addict bursts out of one of the doors during Isolde’s Act 1 narration, making his jittery way across the stage and out, not without having attempted to snort the sand that had earlier been ceremoniously dropped onto the coffin that appears, variously arranged, in each act.

That, at least, lays the groundwork for a theme of drug abuse that is continued as our lovers inject their potion rather than drink it. But any details there might have been elaborating on that theme seem to have fallen by the wayside. Act 2 consisted largely of standing and delivering from Peter Seiffert’s Tristan and Ricarda Merbeth’s Isolde, while Act 3 sees them all having greatly aged. Tristan, his left hand having developed an involuntary shake, wanders absentmindedly off through the French windows just as Isolde arrives. She in turn, at the end of her Liebestod, goes through the doors to join a slow moving tide of extras. Where they’re going, it’s not clear, but at least it was a moment that provided a rare touch of visual poetry.

Happily, given the presence of Donald Runnicles in the pit, we could at least enjoy something more straightforwardly satisfactory in musical terms. This was not Wagner conducting of extremes or with points to prove, but a richly wrought and highly persuasive traversal of the score played with the requisite richness and fluency – and passion. And Seiffert, the production’s original Tristan, delivered what was in many ways a remarkable performance. Now well into his 60s, he retains plenty of ring in his voice, as well as musicality and, on this occasion, hugely impressive security and stamina.

Dramatically things were a little broad brush, but musically this was a prodigious achievement, and one that was almost matched by Merbeth’s tireless Isolde – shining in tone throughout and with a fearless top that made up for occasional lack of projection lower down in the voice. Jumping in as a late replacement, Christoff Fischesser presented a King Marke of moving solemnity and imposing resonance, and Daniela Sindram, though wandering a little in terms of intonation during her Watch, was a fine Brangäne. She and Samuel Youn’s rough-and-ready Kurnewal suffered – as, in fact, did all the principals – from not being able to establish themselves as characters in Vick’s uncertain and unconvincing staging.

Hugo Shirley | 25 September 2018

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 498 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
A production by Graham Vick (2011)
Georg Zeppenfeld replaces Albert Pesendorfer.