Outstanding Tristan und Isolde For Barenboim Festival In Buenos Aires

ArgentinaArgentina Wagner, Tristan und Isolde: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra Staatskapelle Berlin / Daniel Barenboim (conductor), Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. 18.7.2018. (JSJ)

Harry Kupfer’s Tristan und Isolde in Teatro Colón (c) Arnaldo Colombaroli.

Tristan – Peter Seiffert
Isolde – Iréne Theorin
Brangäne – Angela Denoke
Kurwenal – Boaz Daniel
King Mark – Kwangchul Youn
Melot – Gustavo López Manzitti

Direction – Harry Kupfer
Sets – Hans Schavernoch
Costumes – Buki Schiff
Chorus – Miguel Martínez

The annual Barenboim festival, now in its fifth year, is one of the highlights of the Teatro Colón’s and Buenos Aires’ musical activities.

Back in 2014 the first festival included a concert of extracts from Tristan und Isolde. And now, finally, we have been treated to the full work – and appropriately, the first full opera in a festival.

Besides the obvious presence in his natal country of Daniel Barenboim, a notable aspect of the festivals is the accompaniment of orchestras with which he is associated and this year it was the Staatskapelle orchestra of Berlin. Indeed the complete show was from the Staatsoper, being a production by Harry Kupfer for that house, dating – as far as I can make out – from the late-1990s.

The set is a giant fallen angel, which rotates occasionally, serving equally and arguably least successfully as a ship in the first act, within and without King Mark’s castle in the second, and most successfully Tristan’s refuge in the third. However, it clearly required some care to walk upon, of which there was a lot.

Aside from the questionable symbolism of this representation, and despite its age, the production did not come across as dated. Of course, this is a work which is more emotionally – in the music – than dramatically charged and it was this that is developed. The physical interactions were limited, even between Tristan and Isolde and some, such as Melot’s attack on Tristan or Melot’s own slaying, were dispensed almost incidentally.

This focus on the characterisations was further accentuated with the interventions always off-stage of the chorus, consistently excellently prepared by Miguel Martínez.

From the opening notes it was clear that we were in for an outstanding presentation from a scoreless Barenboim and a top orchestra. Neither too fast nor too slow, the command was absolute, building up and drawing out the ebb and flow of the drama from first note to last.

The cast likewise made an impressive line-up, with Peter Seiffert – who had been in the 2014 presentation – an ‘older’ Tristan, with more reticence than ardour, and notwithstanding some weaknesses in the demanding third act, he powerfully demonstrated why he has made the role his own.

Iréne Theorin is likewise making the role of Isolde her own and it’s not hard to see why with her command and energy she injects. Alongside her Angela Denoke was an intense Brangäne and a nice touch was singing her lookout (‘Einsam wachend in der Nacht’) in the second act from the orchestra pit, appropriately separated from the lovers on stage.

Korean bass Kwangchul Youn, a newcomer to our stage, was a noble and expressive King Mark, while Boaz Daniel, also a newcomer, was a bluff Kurwenal. Gustavo López Manzitti, the sole Argentine, rounded off the cast with aplomb.

The full production of Tristan und Isolde had long been rumoured for the Barenboim festival but nothing further is in the air. Long may such productions continue.

Jonathan Spencer Jones

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