Tristan und Isolde

Golo Berg
Männerchor des Anhaltinischen Theaters Dessau
Anhaltinische Philharmonie Dessau
May 2007
Anhaltisches Theater Dessau
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
TristanRichard Decker
IsoldeJordanka Derilova
BrangäneAlexandra Petersamer
KurwenalUlf Paulsen
König MarkeMarek Wojciechowski
MelotKostadin Arguirov
Ein junger SeemannJörg Brückner
Ein HirtJörg Brückner
SteuermannNico Wourterse
Stage directorJohannes Felsenstein
Set designerStefan Rieckhoff
TV directorBrooks Riley

I say this as no great revelation to many readers: there is no more – in fact probably less – action in Wagner’s operas than in those of Verdi, Puccini and others. The fact that Wagner’s operas are generally twice as long as most of the others owes everything to his tendency to plumb the depths of his characters’ minds and emotions, and of wringing out the last ounce of profundity from his stories. Wagner wants the viewer to feel the suffering of his characters, their joy, their frustration, and their triumphs. Any performance that conveys these feelings this with general success, especially in Tristan und Isolde, must be counted a fine one. This new Tristan, from the Anhaltisches Theater in Dessau, Germany, is a good performance indeed. The principals in the cast are all good. I especially like the Brangänge of Alexandra Petersamer, and judging from the audience’s reaction when she took her bows at the end, they did too. Iordanka Derilova (pronounced, Yordahnka Dair-ree-luhva) has a beautiful voice and delivers a heartrending Isolde. Neither she nor Richard Decker, who sings Tristan, is a household name, but on the evidence here, I would say they deserve greater recognition. Decker sings well throughout, though he seems to be uncomfortable when he’s singing while lying on his back, dying in the last act. Still, though he shifts a bit uncomfortably now and then, he manages well enough, deftly conveying, in fact, the sense of struggle that Tristan is experiencing. Marek Wojciechowski delivers an imposing King Marke and Ulf Paulsen’s Kurwenal is also quite convincing.

This is the third Tristan I’ve reviewed in about the last two years here at Classical Net. I was very impressed by the first of them, on Opus Arte, that featured John Treleaven and Deborah Polaski in the leads and Bertrand de Billy conducting, but found the second, also on Opus Arte, that featured Robert Gambill and Nina Stemme in a Glyndebourne production led by Jiří Bĕlohlávek, even better, the best, in fact, that I had ever encountered. This new one then goes up against stiff competition, but comes off well. It’s hard to rank these productions, but as far as the singing and orchestral work go, I would say the new one falls just short of the Bĕlohlávek.

Oddly, the sets to both of these productions are bleak and not dissimilar. The action takes place in the Anhalt production on a circular sort of stage that comes out in front of the orchestra. The way the production is filmed, the orchestra can be seen in the background throughout, with scenery just above them. It’s a slightly distracting yet haunting sort of effect, but also comes across as perhaps just a little cheap-looking: the sets are rather barren with little else on the stage but the characters; so perhaps someone in charge decided to make the orchestra part of the scenery to fill things out a bit. I hope that this person in charge wasn’t trying to send the message that Wagner’s orchestra is utterly vital to the work – as if we don’t know that. In any event, the production works, at least for me.

One oddity about the performance: the English Horn player, who by the way delivers splendid work in the last act playing the “ancient” shepherd melody, stands during her performance and can be seen quite clearly several times. At the end of the opera, she is called on stage with the conductor Golo Berg and the singers to take her bows. I looked to see her name in the booklet and in the credits on the DVD, but alas, she’s nowhere listed. However, at the theater’s website I think I tracked her down: she is Almut van Drüner. I’ve gone to the trouble to credit her, since she deserves recognition here for her fine work.

The orchestra plays well too, and Golo Berg, another non-household name here, conducts with authority in this difficult Wagner work. His tempos are generally brisk, finishing ahead of the Bĕlohlávek by 13 minutes and the de Billy by 25 minutes. Quite a difference, but he makes an excellent case for his quicker tempos. The sound is excellent for the singers throughout, but the orchestra is a little distant and has a more shallow sound. In the end, one must count this as a fine Tristan, one that is worth the effort of committed Wagnerians to purchase.

Robert Cummings

Anhaltisches Theater in Dessau is a multi-venue for theatre, music theatre (opera, operetta and musical) as well as ballet and even puppet theatre. They also give a number of orchestral concerts. Theatre life in Dessau has a long history, having a permanent ensemble as early as 1794. The present building was inaugurated in 1938 and with its 1,250 seats was regarded as the largest north of the Alps. Towards the end of WW2 it was bombed and practically totally destroyed but it was rebuilt and opened again in 1949. Until 1994 it was known as Landestheater Dessau. The theatre has a small ensemble to which is added guests at most productions. At the production of Tristan und Isolde from last year, to be seen on these DVDs, Kurwenal, Melot and the Helmsman are permanent members, but the impressive Bulgarian soprano Iordanka Derilova, who takes the testing role of Isolde, also belongs to the house.

The performance starts in silence with the titles only, clean in white against black, and gradually the soft opening of the prelude is heard. The curtain rises and we are exposed to a beautiful seascape, alternating with close-ups of Tristan and Isolde. They come closer to each other, moving in circles until, at the climax, they are standing face to face. Then, after a while, when the prelude decreases in intensity, they walk slowly in different directions.

After a while it turns out that, viewed from the audience, from where also much of the performance is being filmed, there is a revolving stage in the foreground with the orchestra behind the stage, partly visible. This reminds me of the Hartmut Haenchen/Pierre Audi Ring cycle in Amsterdam, where the orchestra was in a central position and the characters moved around the pit. The Dessau solution is not revolutionary in the same way and probably the theatre is constructed this way. Occasional glimpses of the orchestra and – primarily – the waving arms of conductor Golo Berg called this layout to mind every now and then. I can’t say that it disturbed me very much – and it could also be seen as a Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt. Behind the orchestra there is a wide screen with projections to enhance the rather sparse sets – often very evocatively.

The revolving stage is diligently employed and without being sensational in any way the production highlights the central conflicts of the drama. For better or worse a heavy workload falls on the leading roles to characterise the emotions and the outcome of this is a bit ambivalent in the case of the love-couple. Iordanka Derilova’s Isolde is intense, hot-tempered and acts with sometimes histrionically exaggerated gestures and poses; Richard Decker, on the other hand, is a recessed Tristan, rather awkward at times and there is very little glow in his approach – neither scenically nor vocally. Considering Tristan’s merits in sundry respects he is portrayed here as a rather dull person. But the approach is not wholly negative or misleading. There is undeniable warmth in the reading, in the second act Decker is not exactly fiery but at least one can feel sympathy for him and it seems that he is still drugged from Brangäne’s love-potion, whereas the effect on Isolde is of the utmost infatuation and sexual activity. She mounts a passive Tristan. In the third act you can’t expect a mortally wounded warrior to be very powerful and here his recessed acting and singing is an asset. Interestingly, though, and paradoxically, he also finds the glow, the shine one wants from a great Tristan. When I saw him as Samson in Stockholm a few months ago I commented on his steely top register while in the middle register he was a bit dry. I can fully understand, though, that to be able to manage the last act of Tristan und Isolde the tenor has to economize on the vocal resources during the previous two. In the last resort Decker’s Tristan wins on points while Iordanka Derilova’s dynamite packet of Isolde goes for KO from the beginning. She is also vocally attractive. She doesn’t have the laser-beam high notes of a Birgit Nilsson nor the creamy beauty of Nina Stemme but the intensity of her acting is well matched by her singing and her Liebestod is certainly impressive.

Alexandra Petersamer is a Brangäne to match this fiery Isolde – they are not unlike each other in vocal timbre – and Ulf Paulsen is a powerful Kurwenal. In King Marke’s long monologue Marek Wojciechowski emerges as a noble and dignified character and the scene is a vocal high-spot. The supporting singers are all well in the picture and Golo Berg conducts with obvious affection for the score.

Readers who already own Barenboim’s Bayreuth set (see review) or Jiří Bĕlohlávek’s Glyndebourne set (see review), which, as I wrote in the former review, are more complementary than competing, may not feel enticed by this ‘provincial’ production with largely unknown singers. I feel a bit ashamed that my expectations were so low when I started watching but it turned out to be a very likeable performance. Big names in themselves are no sure-fire guarantee for success (though the two sets mentioned above certainly are) and this Dessau production proves that also ‘minor’ companies can produce excellent things.

Göran Forsling

Filmée à l’Anhaltisches Theater de Dessau, en 2007, voici une production de Tristan und Isolde qui rompt singulièrement avec les conventions. Johannes Felsenstein a imaginé de placer les musiciens de l’Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau sur la scène dont un écran occupe le cadre, écran où seront projetées des images évocatrices du voyage en mer au premier acte, d’une terre celte au deuxième, enfin l’insularité effective et symbolique pour la mort des amants. Outre de stimuler l’imaginaire, le dispositif affirme sa pertinence, l’orchestre de Wagner exprimant les passions et leurs fatalités bien plus encore que les voix qui s’y enchevêtrent. De fait, les chanteurs évolueront devant l’orchestre, comme la face visible d’un argument à la profondeur indomptable. Une direction d’acteur précise soutient cette conception sensible où l’avant-scène, tour à tour pont du vaisseau oscillant sous la vague qui s’enfle en gros plan sur l’écran, promenade magique jonchée de mégalithes au bord d’une large baie faussement paisible, grève d’hostiles rochers dans l’humide brume côtière, raconte ce feu que seul le ciel domptera peut-être.

Particulièrement mises en valeur par la scénographie, les voix arborent des formats impressionnants qui ne sont vraisemblablement pas tout à fait conformes à la réalité. Aussi n’ont-elles jamais à forcer pour atteindre leur but, ce qui autorise un naturel, dans l’émission comme dans le jeu, rarement rencontré dans ce répertoire. L’on remarque le chant tant vaillant que soigné, précis et clair, de Jörg Brückner (Berger), l’aigu flamboyant du très avantageusement sonore Kostadin Arguirov (Melot) à la diction tonique, le timbre, idéal pour la noblesse du rôle, de Marek Wojciechowski (Marke) qui, toutefois, manque de présence avec son registre haut parfois malaisé. On goûte le chant fort impacté d’Ulf Paulsen (Kurwenal), dans une couleur fermement corsée pouvant s’enorgueillir d’une diction remarquable, et le Tristan sainement construit dans un grave et un médium solides de Richard Decker, bénéficiant d’une teinte sombre omniprésente dans l’aigu. Côté dames, le timbre chaleureux d’Alexandra Petersammer, que traverse un phrasé toujours généreux, amené par des attaques moelleuses, d’une musicalité raffinée, livre une Brangäne comme on en rencontre peu. Le soprano dramatique bulgare Iordanka Derilova (coutumière des Amneris, Lady Macbeth, et Kundry) souligne intelligemment les contrastes entre les trois aspects du rôle d’Isolde.

Au pupitre, Golo Berg ménage un premier prélude précautionneux, un rien pontifiant, qui, en revanche, cisèle un fin travail de couleurs et de nuances. Il faut cependant reconnaître qu’il ne dispose pas d’un orchestre d’une grande tenue, accusant des faiblesses en ses cuivres, une clarinette basse peu fiable, des cordes plutôt lâches. Cela n’empêchera pas un Acte III réussi, en un geste à la fois tendre et urgent, à l’âpreté sereine. La capture, signée Brooks Riley, guide adroitement l’œil dans la représentation et même un peu au delà.

bertrand bolognesi

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Arthaus Musik
Technical Specifications
720×480, 1.8 Mbit/s, 3.0 GByte, 5.1 ch (MPEG-4)