Spain Wagner, Tristan und Isolde: Liceu Orchestra and Chorus / Josep Pons (conductor), Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 28.11.2017. (JMI)
Tristan – Stefan Vinke
Isolde – Iréne Theorin
Brangäne – Sarah Connolly
King Marke – Albert Dohmen
Kurwenal – Greer Grimsley
Melot – Francisco Vas
Shepherd – Jorge Rodríguez Norton
Steersman – Germán Olvera
Production: Opéra de Lyon
Director – Alex Ollé
Sets – Alfons Flores
Costumes – Josep Abril
Lighting – Urs Schönebaum
Videos – Franc Aleu
Tristan und Isolde was last performed at the Liceu in January 2010, although it could be seen here in concert version in 2012 and 2015. This production, by Alex Ollé of the Catalan group La Fura dels Baus, comes from the Lyon Opera, where it premiered in June 2011. It’s a fairly traditional production, and the most interesting aspect of it lies in the sets. The first act takes place on the deck of a ship; there are waves at the rear of the stage and a large sphere descends as the ship approaches Cornwall. In Act II, the large sphere, which represents King Marke’s palace, is at the back of the stage; it also serves as a screen upon which images are projected. The sphere is rotated 180 degrees for Act III, and the action takes place at the front of the stage. The costumes are fairly simple and timeless, and the lighting is appropriate.
The stage direction narrates the plot without any particular originality. The biggest problem lies in Act II, where the action takes place in that sphere with the front of the stage left empty. As a result, voices did not always reach the audience, even with two strong singers in the lead. It’s hard to imagine what the result would have been with other singers or in a theatre that has worse acoustics than the Liceu’s. The music has been sacrificed for aesthetics in this fundamental second act, and it might all have been resolved in a more felicitous way.
Josep Pons’ conducting seemed careful but irregular. His reading of the first act was convincing, while the love scene between the protagonists in the second act was short on lyricism and emotion; the staging did not help either. His Act III felt a little flat overall. The orchestra again confirmed their improvement of recent years.
Tenor Stefan Vinke was a powerful Tristan, for whom one can only express admiration. Seldom does one see an exhibition of strength like his in the terrifying Act III, and his singing was more nuanced than on previous occasions.
Soprano Iréne Theorin in the role of Isolde once again proved that she is one of the best current interpreters of the character. Her performance was superb, although her great love duet of Act II was harmed somewhat by the production. She shone instead in her Liebestod, sung from the front of the stage.
Mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly was a good interpreter of Brangäne but sometimes tight on the high notes. I prefer her in another kind of repertoire. Albert Dohmen as King Marke sang with gusto and emotion, but he is another singer who shifts from baritone to bass when losing high notes. King Marke needs a darker voice than Dohmen’s.
Baritone Greer Grimsley as Kurwenal gave a convincing interpretation with a voice well suited to the part. In the secondary characters, Francisco Vas was a little short on volume, but both Jorge Rodríguez Norton and Germán Olvera did nicely.
The audience was very enthusiastic at the final bows, and especially for Stefan Vinke, Iréne Theorin and Albert Dohmen.
José M. Irurzun