Tristan und Isolde

Andris Poga
Latvian National Symphony Chorus and Orchestra
9 July 2022
Concert Hall Cēsis
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanMarco Jentzsch
IsoldeGun-Brit Barkmin
BrangäneMartina Dike
KurwenalOliver Zwarg
König MarkeAin Anger
MelotMikhail Chulpayev
Ein junger SeemannMikhail Chulpayev
Ein HirtArtem Safronov
SteuermannRinald Kandalincev

A monument to love

Concert halls Cesis the special charm is its pleasant cordial mood and human scale, whose architecture and interior solutions combine the modern with the historical. Nothing pompous! However, it is precisely on this human scale that there is enough space for the scope of music and thought. Richard Wagner’s operas proved this Tristan and Isolde the great concert performance – a cooperation project of the Cēsi Art Festival and the concert hall. The artistically vivid, exciting adventure on July 9th filled six hours of our lives with musical and emotional splendor. This adventure, which consisted of four hours of music sounding led by the conductor Andras Poga at the conductor’s desk of the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra and the long breaks of rest and specially organized lunch right there in the concert hall, corresponding to the traditions of listening to Wagner’s grand operas, not only allowed to enjoy artistic peaks and an impressive emotional scope, but was also a historical event, because this Wagner’s music drama has so far experienced only one production in Latvia more than a hundred years ago – at the Latvian National Opera in 1921.

This monumental work, conceived and created by Wagner as a monument and hymn to an impossible but all-encompassing love, ushered us into another – ecstatic – reality, allowing us to forget about the mundane concerns of our everyday existence.

A feat of artists
Honor and glory to casting producer Ilze Spranczmane, who, despite being busy with Wagner’s songs, managed to gather Tristan and Isolde for the performance, an excellent lineup of international soloists and almost at the last minute to find a new performer of Isolde – the German soprano Gunbrit Barkmina – who sang instead of our soprano Liene Kinchas, who was previously scheduled in the program. It’s a pity that due to health problems, the long-awaited and long-prepared debut of Liene Kinchas in the role of Isolde in Latvia was canceled (she sang it for the first time in the spring in Tartu), but at least the performance was saved and was successful. The performance of the soloists, the conductor and the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra was a real feat, which required the highest degree of concentration, the quality of creative performance, the intensity of self-sacrifice and the endurance of marathon runners from the artists in the reading of this impressive, richly symphonized musical drama.

Gunbrit Barkmina, like the performer of the role of Tristan – the still young but quite experienced German tenor Marko Jenčs – performed in Latvia for the first time. Gunbritt Barkmin’s bright, clear, precisely aimed soprano is first associated with the interpretations of opera characters by Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, Benjamin Britten, Leoš Janáček, Harrison Birtwistle and contemporary composers, but her repertoire also includes Wagnerian roles. Among them is Isolde, played in our small world, only in the other hemisphere of the globe – in Australia – having met in a production with the Estonian bass Ain Anger, who is widely heard in Latvia, who brilliantly performed the role of King Mark in Cēsis.

The other guest artists are well known to domestic music lovers, as the Swedish mezzo-soprano Martina Dike, who we heard in the role of Brangena, has participated in the Latvian National Opera’s Wagner operas Gold of the Rhine, Valkyrie and Tannheiser in the production, while the German baritone Oliver Zwargs is introduced here in the role of Alberich Rhine gold.

Sailing to love death
Due to the density of the orchestral scores and the splendor of the instrumentation, I think Wagner’s operas could be called symphonies with singing, but with the caveat that the vocal parts in them are unusually developed and their performers must be vocally hardened, real long-distance runners. Although the performance of the performers of the title roles was expressive and appealing, the bright power of the group Tristan and Isolde the concert performance consisted of a trio, whose leader Martina Dike (Brangena) was joined by Ain Angers (King Mark in acts 2 and 3) and Olivers Zvargs (Kurvenal with the wide dramatic revelation of the character in act 3) during the performance.

Martina Dike’s mezzo-soprano is so powerful, free-flowing, full of timbre and at the same time so bright and convincing even in the upper part of the range that it even seemed – this is where Isolde’s real strength would be. Wagner’s music seems to have been created for the Swedish singer’s voice, which seems to pierce the orchestra without strain and effort and hits the heart with both the scope and the depth characteristic of psychological chamber music. Aina Anger’s powerful, lush, intrinsically warm and expertly nuanced bass brings out the pain and majesty of King Mark. Yes, it is the sublimity alongside the pain of endless, unfulfilled longing that is the main key to the listener’s heart in this opera.

Kurvenal is a character with dramatic growth that takes on an unavoidably fatal power in Oliver Zvarg’s fervent, precisely intoned intensity in his ever-increasing chant. On the other hand, the performance of the actors of the two title characters teaches us that the power of love can be revealed not only with hypersound and “the biggest voices”: in the performance of Marko Jenča and Gunbrit Barkmin, the emotional concentration, the purposefulness of the interpretation, the maximum self-sacrifice, getting into Wagner’s musical style and the indescribable chemistry of the duo convinced us. The elaborate scene of love in Act 2, Tristan’s ecstatic, dramatic monologues and Isolde’s Love-Death in Act 3 were the emotional peaks of their performances. The four bars dedicated to the role of the helmsman in the third act were faithfully sung by LNO soloist baritone Rinalds Kandalintsevs. The tenor of Artyom Safronov was suitable for the song’s compact vocal part, while Mikhail Chulpaev (the only one of the local trio who was involved in all three acts) perfectly sang the song of the young sailor hidden on the side of the balcony of the concert hall, invisible to the audience at the very beginning of the performance, then in the 2nd act he played it with the appropriate temperament the jealous Melot.

Together with the orchestra, which played expressively, magnificently and dynamically nuanced throughout the performance, burning with the extraordinary power of the feelings of the opera characters, Wagner’s music pulls the listener into his world, his special, slow-flowing, yet dramatic time, and does not let go. The door to this world opened already with the first bars of the orchestra’s introduction, further highlighting the charm of harmonic instability – endless longing. The excellent solos of Jana Zeļenskas (English horn), Anna Gāgane (clarinet), Sigurd Lallo (bass clarinet) and Māras Evelon (horn) especially stood out in the LNSO performance.

The video made by Aleksandar Lobanov, which can be seen in the background of the concert production, participated in creating the mood as a visual addition to the flow of the music. It did not usurp attention, did not draw the eye into a moving video film, did not illustrate music, did not stuff itself with conceptual symbolism, but rather illuminated in various ways a majestic, harsh rock wall, over which a waterfall of feelings and blood flowed at the climax of the drama.

Megan | 24 July 2022

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 499 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast of a concert performance from the Cēsis art festival
Gun-Brit Barkmin replaces Liene Kinča as Isolde.