Starting at 5pm, Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is something of a marathon, which, including two intervals, finished at 10.15pm.
Three acts with Wagner’s libretto, based on a medieval epic poem featuring Tristan, nephew to the King of Cornwall, and Isolde, an Irish princess. An anticipated torturous tale of betrayal, highlighting a love potion substituting a death potion, eventual lethal injuries to our hero sung dramatically by Ben Heppner and Isolde finally dying in her moment of transfiguration.
Composing in 1856 Wagner already knew how to play on everyone’s emotions, never slow to exploit key shifts, sudden changes in tempi, with inventive moods creating individualistic magic such as the unforgettable Prelude to Act 1 and Isolde’s Liebestod (frequently performed as concert pieces) beautifully realised by conductor Lothar Koenigs.
There was wonderful playing from WNO’s orchestra, earning early cheers during the first interval from the absorbed audience.
Susan Bickley was a fine partner as maid Bragäne to Ann Petersen’s Isolde who in turn gave no hint of problems to be revealed later, in spite of her splendid vocal commitment. This production was somewhat monochromatic with simple symbolic scenery: ship, castle and Tristran’s ancestral home complete with solo shepherd’s pipe – taragato – an ancient reed instrument. Necessary surtitles, translated from the German, were often repetitive and often bizarrely obscure in essence.
Drama indeed as a change was revealed for the final act. Ann Petersen was suffering from inflamed vocal chords and her part was nobly taken by Anna-Katherina Behnke. A magnificent rescue with relief all round.