Tristan and Isolde, Madrid Teatro Real. January 19th 2008. Production: Lluis Pasqual. Cast:
Tristan: Robert Dean Smith, Isolde: Waltraud Meier, Marke: René Pape, Brangäne: Mihoko Fujimura, Kurwenal: Alan Titus. Conductor: Jesus Lopez-Cobos. Production previously shown at Teatro San Carlo, Napoli .
Director Lluis Pasqual´s main concept for this production of Tristan and Isolde centers around the theme of eternal love: Act 1 takes place in the middle age aboard a viking ship (semirealistically moving with the waves). Then follows Act 2 in a 19th century garden, in which we see the captain (Tristan) in love with the beautiful wife of his General. Act 3 takes place in a present day desert military camp scenario with Tristan in a lazaret and his men surrounding him in camouflage...
Curiously, I have never seen this idea realized in the theatre before (though as an after-thought it seems rather obvious), and it works surprisingly well. Spreading the story over centuries adds to the eternal aspect of the story. Personally, I would have preferred a more detailed stage direction of the singers (the Chéreau style), but others may well disagree. Many will probably appreciate that Lluis Pasqual makes virtually no alterations in Wagner´s story-line, although Tristan is just about to kill Melot in Act II, when he drops the sword and lets himself be wounded.
The soloists are genuinely top-class, a major achievement for the Teatro Real and over-all I don´t think a better cast can be assembled for this work today: Above all, Waltraud Meier and René Pape, both of whom I find entirely unsurpassed as Isolde and Marke, as I´ve written extensively about earlier (to spare regular readers the repetition of my virtually unending praise for those two, see my review of Tristan in Munich and at La Scala, both earlier this season).
Slightly disappointing performance from Robert Dean Smith (Tristan), whom I found rather uninvolved in his acting, but he sang the part beautifully, and made it in full voice and no troubles through the third act, which I believe not many of his contemporaries could do more convincingly.
Mihoko Fujimura has an exquisite beautiful voice with a beautiful dark timbre, and in many ways she is ideal for the part of Brangäne. However she seems to lack a certain dramatic quality, and her phrasings are rather "square" and pointedly regarding the rhythm (as opposed to Waltraud Meier´s more floating style). I cannot help thinking she might be ideally suited for Mozart. Fujimura´s style is quite distinctive, and I am seriously wondering how her relatively small voiced Kundry will stand up to Christian Thielemann´s mighty Vienna orchestra in March...
Jesus Lopez-Cobos´ conducting would have been one of the highlights of the performance with any other casting than the above, and judged on it´s own, he did a brilliant job with a beautiful, balanced orchestral sound, which boasts in particular a strong string section. At times, there was a lack of synchronization with the singers, especially Waltraud Meier, but in this respect I guess it´s merciful conducting Wagner: If it had been Don Giovanni 9 of 10 people would have noticed it, here I suppose 9 of 10 didn´t notice it...
It really seams unfair to point out that the quality of the orchestral playing doesn´t quite match that of Barenboim´s with the Scala or the Berlin State Opera Orchestra, or maybe Thielemann in Vienna, but compared to anyone else, this orchestra is in for a tight race. A genuine top-class achievement, which they should definitely be proud of in Madrid.
As everything else in Spain, opera also starts relatively late: Beginning at 7 pm, this performance was scheduled to end at 00.15 - a timing I much prefer to the 4 pm sessions in Bayreuth. And for the first time, I noticed that wide-screen monitors were put up at several sections of the gallery to show the action on the stage. Whether this is disturbing or actually helpful for those people with restricted view of the stage I am not sure, since I was seated below, but the idea seems interesting.