Want an opera filled with drama, but where nothing actually happens? Then looks no further.
I’m a huge Wagnerian. I love this opera and have done so since I first heard it. This was the first time, however, that I’d got to see it performed live. With an all-star cast and Pappano at the helm, who conducted one of the first Ring Cycle’s I ever heard, expectations were high.
The cast really lived up to their global reputations: absolutely amazing. I was taken aback by the power of Nina Stemme’s voice, right from the first note she filled the entire House with her rich tone. This was unfortunate for Sarah Connolly, who can’t match Stemme when it comes raw vocal power. Connolly is a brilliant singer, there is no doubt about that. But she couldn’t match the intensity of Stemme’s performance creating this disparity between them, and occasionally being overpowered by the orchestra is never good. But, to be quite honest, there aren’t many singers that can match Stemme and making the orchestra play quieter would compromise on the drama quite a bit. Nonetheless Connolly did a superb job of Brangane’s warning (“Einsam wachend in der nacht“), probably the character’s central ‘aria’ in the entire opera.
The role of Tristan is formidable, making huge demands of any tenor brave enough to take the role on. Stephen Gould’s task was made that much harder knowing his Isolde will be performed by Stemme, a tall order to fill, but he delivered. It was pure joy listening to them throughout the evening, especially in the dreaded Liebesnacht.
Soon after this came the next highlight of the evening, the great Sir John Tomlinson. Tomlinson’s Wotan, conducted by Barenboim at Bayreuth in the early 1990s, is my favourite. I was so excited to hear him sing. However, this once formidable Wagnerian is no longer in his prime and his singing was at times very shaky. Yet, despite this, the power of his voice remains and when he got it right, and there were a few of these moments, the effect was truly thrilling. He reminded me of how Stemme, right at the beginning of the opera, filled the entire house with her incredible voice, Tomlinson was no different. He has recorded CD’s a fair few times, but you really need to hear it live to appreciate it properly.
Antonio Pappano was brilliant once again, creating magic with the orchestra of the Royal Opera. I’ve heard a few operas and concert pieces conducted by Pappano, and I think it’s probably safe to say this is a conductor at the height of his abilities. What the future holds, who knows. But we can certainly expect further greatness from him.
If there was one aspect that let the entire experience down, then it was the horrid staging. Bare, grey and uninspiring, the set was terribly depressing. I tried to work out why the staging was so minimalist and for the most part, a big grey wall. I couldn’t think of much. But even the dreadful set couldn’t detract from what was otherwise, a wonderfully magical evening. Bloody brilliant.