Richard Wagner's Tristan and Isolde (1813-1883)
Opera in semi-staged concert version. Action in three acts
D. musical: Semyon Bychkov. D. choir: Andrés Máspero
Distribution: Catherine Foster, Andreas Schager, Franz-Josef Selig, Ekaterina Gubanova, Brian Mulligan, Neal Cooper, Jorge Rodríguez-Norton, Alejandro del Cerro and David Lagares.
Teatro Real in Madrid 6 May 2023.
There is no season at the Teatro Real without its Wagner, and this time it was the turn of Tristán e Isolda. He has done it in a semi-staged version, In my opinion, the best way to offer this opera. The singers interact just enough and nothing distracts from what is truly important, music. It is not a work that requires great scenic displays, the characters are few and the environment that surrounds it is dreamlike, so this way of offering it is a success.
In a letter he addressed Listzt in 1854, Wagner expressed himself in this way: "Since I have not known in life the true happiness of love, I want to erect a monument to the most beautiful of dreams, in which must be met, from beginning to end, that love". This idea, fruit of the stormy love between Wagner and Mathilde Wessendonck, influenced different works by the German composer, especially in Tristan and Isolde.
The work begins with a chord of three notes in a serious and ascending register of the cellos in unison. A chord that develops throughout the play and only works out to the end, with the death of Isolda (spoiler).
Love solves death dissonance. This creates a unique harmonic treatment, never heard, that changes from that moment the approaches of the musical structure. It is the so-called "Tristan chord", that always drives the music forward, in an infinite envelope that barely relaxes in a couple of interludes. The harmonic richness and the inexhaustible journey that the composer proposes only ends at the last moment.
Wagner cataloged Tristan as action/plot, o action. This work is not based on any historical event, but in moments and mythological characters. Two plots or two different worlds can be distinguished, the real or rational world, to which the characters of Brangäne belong, Kurwenal, Melot and King Marke, and the inner world, the one of dreams and love in which Tristan and Isolde live. It is this inner world that Wagner best describes in his score, always placing the plane of reality at the end of each act. The rest of the work belongs to the dreams of its protagonists.
And if the main chord of this opera is infinite, so are the leisurely movements of its musical director Semyon Bychkov. The always temperate and sure gesture of the musical director, attended each of the entrances of the orchestra and the singers. He made the orchestra sound like few times. With a clean and transparent sound, with a careful balance in brass and strings. That soft and enveloping gesture, that seemed to make him advance in the sea of music without difficulties, without brusquedades or aspawintos. A whole lesson in capacity and knowledge of the work and of the times.
Regulars of Festivals like Leipzig and Bayreuth, the cadre of voices that have gathered in the Real, have demonstrated their quality and knowledge of Wagnerian singing.
For the role of Isolde, Ingela Brimberg was announced, which was replaced by Catherine Foster. I don't know how Brimberg would have turned out, but the british, which has a long Wagnerian trajectory, It has been a huge Isolde. He has an overflowing lyrical voice, a full treble, full of metal and glitter. His broadcast is clean, controlled, segura, without roughness. He knew how to endow the character with initial fury to transform it into romanticism and naivety at the end. A brilliant Isolde.
Tristán has been interpreted by the German tenor Andreas Schager, known and appreciated in this Theater and another Wagnerian of pro. It is in a moment full of voice, with that metal in its treble and central zone. On stage he is tireless, always gives everything. He came from interpreting the tetralogy in Berlin but his voice does not seem to need rest. He faces the entire work with the same intensity without his voice or his phrasing becoming fatigued.
the Irish Brian Mulligan He gave us a Kurwenal full of nobility and fidelity to Tristán. Also in the vocal he began to appreciate the nobility, with his clean and sharp timbre he demonstrated those qualities, both in moments of heroic exaltation and in the most dramatic.
The Russian Ekaterina Gubanova it was a splendid Brangane. Always elegant, with abundant flow, clean and safe phrasing and those dark tones that bring so much personality to the character.
low german Franz Josef Selig, also well known to the public, He returned to interpret the role of King Marke. His stage presence, like the darkness and depth of your timbre, they dress the character perfectly. Scenically it had moments of special brilliance, especially in the emotion that he was able to convey in the death of Tristán.
Neal Cooper he was right in his interpretation of Melot, a cunning character well outlined by the British tenor through his steely voice.
The Spanish representation was in charge of Alejandro del Cerro, Jorge Rodríguez Norton Y David Lagares who stood tall in the midst of this impressive cast.
I got this programming of Tristan and Isolda, a gift turned into an event by the cast and by a Semyon Bychkov who worked the miracle.
Text: Paloma Sanz
Photograph: Javier del Real / Teatro Real