Tristan in Barcelona: Inappropriately Cast

SpainSpain Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, Mariinsky Orchestra, Liceu Chorus, Valery Gergiev (conductor), Gran Theatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 18.3.2015 (JMI)

Concert Version


Tristan: Robert Gambill
Isolde. Larisa Gogolevskaya
Brangaene: Julia Matochkina
Kurwenal: Evgeny Nikitin
King Mark: Mikhail Petrenko
Melot: Yuri Alexeyev
Sailor and Shepherd: Dmitry Voropaev

The Mariinsky Orchestra and Valery Gergiev have begun their tour through Spain and France with this concert version of Tristan und Isolde. As often happens with the Mariinsky, the performance was very good musically but largely disappointing in vocal terms.

Valery Gergiev’s version is what you would expect from one of today’s top conductors: emotion, an essential ingredient in any opera, was always present, and brilliance as well. What a difference between Gergiev’s Tristan and Pons’s Siegfried! One could enjoy Wagner’s music in this concert: the orchestra was excellent under his baton. The problem with Gergiev is whether or not a piece has been rehearsed sufficiently ̶  his schedule hardly allows for it. This time, things worked out because the Mariinsky had performed Tristan in Russia on 2 March.

I don’t know how the casts are chosen in St. Petersburg, but mistakes are frequent. I experienced it very recently when the Mariinsky cast as Siegmund a light lyric tenor who in Barcelona has sung the parts of Sailor and Shepherd. The biggest disappointment of this concert was the choice of the two protagonists; they could have been accurately advertised as the parents of Tristan and Isolde.

Robert Gambill, who will turn 60 shortly, has always been a remarkable Mozart singer. His activity is rather limited lately and focused on opera houses of lesser importance, and it was certainly a surprise to see him as Tristan. Gambill has fine qualities as singer  ̶  his diction, expressiveness and singing line  ̶  but he has never been a heldentenor, and Tristan is out of the question for him. He was all right in Act I, but in the following two his voice was several sizes smaller than what is needed. Add to this his evident vocal fatigue at the high notes, and one reaches the conclusion that he was badly miscast.

Russian soprano Larisa Gogolevskaya has passed her vocal zenith. It is almost 25 years since she joined the Mariinsky company, and she had previously spent several years in other Russian opera houses. Her voice still has power but it is very dry, and the timbre is unattractive. It’s a shame not to be able to hear this soprano as she sang some 15 years ago, because she would have been an excellent Isolde. Now her voice simply is not right for the tour of an important opera house, especially considering that tickets are purchased without knowing who the singers will be.

If the protagonists disappointed, I have to say the opposite of mezzo soprano Julia Matochkina, who offered a magnificent, exceptional Brangaene from start to finish.

Evgeny Nikitin was well-suited to the part of Kurwenal, with a powerful and appealing voice, almost a luxury in the character. However, he should avoid singing  with his head continuously in the score.

Mikhail Petrenko has become in recent years the most important bass at the Mariinsky, and I really do not quite understand it. His King Mark was no more than acceptable. He lacks amplitude and nobility and becomes a little whitish at the top.

Yuri Alexeyev was correct as Melot, while Dmitry Voropaev did a fine job as Sailor and Shepherd.

The Liceu was almost fully sold out. The audience showed their appreciation to Gergiev and the orchestra, but there was noisy booing at the end of Act II, which cooled the atmosphere at the end of the concert. Undoubtedly, the booing was provoked by the inadequacy of the protagonists, and I hope Mr.Gergiev takes note of what happened.

José M. Irurzun

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