Tristan and Isolde, EIF 2012, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Welsh National Opera
Richard Wagner (composer)
Jennifer Wilson (Isolde), Susan Bickley (Brangane), Ben Heppner (Tristan), Philip Joll (Kurwenal), Jan-Hendrik Rootering (King Mark), Simon Thorpe (Melot), Simon Crosby Buttle (Shepherd/Young Sailor), Julian Boyce (Steersman), Welsh National Opera Orchestra, Lothar Koenigs (conductor)
Running time

Standing ovations are infrequent in Edinburgh, even at Festival time, but this tour de force concert performance of a three-act Wagner opera thoroughly merited the prolonged standing ovation that marked the end of a memorable evening.

Concert performances of opera frequently miss out on the drama or emotion that a staged performance can provide but this was an emotion-packed production.

Conductor Lothar Koenigs galvanised the orchestra, drawing out a dynamic response from the players, coping equally with dramatic tumults of sound and gentle lyrical passages. The large orchestra filled the Usher Hall platform and one seasoned opera-goer in the audience could be heard wondering how they could fit into a theatre pit.

Their playing was doubtless a highlight of the evening though there was a downside. At some points they were so loud that the singers were barely audible, especially in Tristan’s prolonged death scene.

Ben Heppner and Jennifer Wilson in the title roles were word-perfect, without recourse to the obtrusive music stands common to most concert versions. Both singers used body language to emphasis the vocal output. Heppner was not quite as impressive as expected in the rapturous second act scenes with Isolde, while Wilson throughout was a trifle shrill at full power.

Wagner provided little more than minor parts for other singers but Susan Bickley was outstanding as Isolde’s maid Brangane and bass-baritone Jan-Hendrick Rootering must be given full credit for filling the King Mark role at short-notice.

Event: 15 August 2012