Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Berliner Philharmoniker: Wagner's Tristan und Isolde Concert Performance

So, Berliner Philharmoniker and Tristan. Karajan and Abbado did it once, so it's definitely Rattle's time now. Fresh after their performances in Baden-Baden, the orchestra brought the production in concert format to Berlin. I'm planning to see the production by Mariusz Trelinski in September through the live stream of Metropolitan Opera, also conducted by Rattle with a much better cast a la Met standard.
Wagner operas are always special cases: they're great to be performed in opera houses,but even greater in concert halls. Stripped them away from the stage and costumes, you'll get a high dose of wonderful music and logically higher focus in paying attention to the words of the libretto from Wagner's quill. In case of this Tristan, the Berliner offered the audience 5-hour-long musical great moment. Well, generally speaking.
Rattle's interpretation is neither German nor romantic. He stripped off the elements of the complex score and made the sound less deeper, less dramatic but still sounding grand in the piece's most dramatic moments. The sound of the orchestra were unfortunately quite often too loud, especially in dialogue scenes. Berliner Philharmoniker made a great company to both Rattle and the singers, constantly delivering solid Wagnerian sound and bringing the audience through great high & lows, especially throughout the second act.

Eva-Maria Westbroek sang Isolde, the role she should've sung in Bayreuth last summer. This production of Tristan could be the clue for the cancellation for Bayreuth: Westbroek's Isolde sounded too big and the color of her voice is currently too deep for this role, especially if the audience start comparing her to Waltraud Meier or Nina Stemme. Her energy was stable from beginning to end, although her voice had some lack of control. Her "Liebestod" was less philosophical, not quite dramatic and rather loud. Some may like it, but it definitely wasn't my cup of tea.
Stuart Skelton did a great job, considering it was his Tristan debut. He started off really good, although the energy couldn't really keep up throughout the whole delirium scene in third act. Well, he should keep practicing during the summer and I think he'll be fit for Met in fall.
Stephen Milling did a very great, Bayreuth-standard Marke. No wonder, he has sung the role in both Berliner Staatsoper and Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. Bravo, bravo, bravo.
Michael Nagy also did a consistent job portraying Kurwenal, his bariton voice was sharp and always on point.
Sarah Connolly as Brangane fell sadly on a more insecure side, as her voice wasn't quite warmed up during the first act, although it got better afterwards.
Rundfunkchor Berlin and other singers on the minor roles were generally good.
Loud applause from the audience as the performance ended.

Conclusion: Berliner Philharmoniker playing Tristan. The premise held a lot of promises, but this Tristan under Rattle couldn't come close to the ones they've done in the past. It had many ups and downs, but the orchestra maintained to be the true star during the whole performance. So, the Berliner and Wagner would always be a solid guarantee for a spectacle for years to come.


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