This production from Glyndebourne of Tristan und Isolde resembles the last one that I saw in that the visuals are simple. Which makes sense; this does not strike me as an opera that would work well with a lot of visual clutter in it. (Having lots of stage clutter is often linked with humor, isn’t it? I’m thinking particularly of Doris Dörrie’s Cosí fan tutte which was great fun but sort of exhausting at times. Or in other cases – a certain much-googled DVD of Handel’s Alcina comes to mind – it’s less humor than a kind of directorial ADHD.) But to return to Wagner, there is even less in the way of stuff on stage here than there was in that Met version, even though the lighting and general general setup of the Met’s version felt more spacious than this.
In that production from the Met, the space was mostly open and bright at the rear and at the top. In this Glyndebourne production, directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, the stage as a whole is on average darker, and all three acts take place in front of a large elliptical whorl. (I thought about making some remark about “their love is circling the LoveDeathDrain” because it sort of looks like that, but that might imply that I thought the whole thing wasn’t very good, which is not the case.) Important entrances and exits are made through this aperture – In Act II, Tristan comes from this direction when he arrives to see Isolde; she also appears via the vortex in Act III, as does Marke; at the end of Act I (if memory serves) the two are facing it holding hands; Isolde is outlined against it for “mild und leise wie er lächelt” at the very end. It’s not a series of circles or a continuous spiral but rather a series of almost-circles that don’t quite join. The space that they frame is connected to the unattainable – or at least, characters are associated with the opening whenever they are having a particularly transcendent moment. (Though the shepherd also appears back there in Act III, wearing the oddest mask I have ever seen – he’s wrapped in what look like bandages, and he’s got this thing on his face like a triceratops skull but narrower, and without the horns. Also, while we are on the subject of shepherds, is it a staging convention in this opera that whenever we get to the part in Act III where Kurwenal mentions Tristan’s flocks to him, Tristan has to have this look on his face like “I HAVE SHEEP?!”)
But anyway, the Transcendence Area and its surrounding not-quite-joined-up whorls. Its not-quite-connected quality made me think of that repeated series of chords that comes up again and again in the opera and never quite gets resolved – until the very end. The score one-ups the visuals, in this case, which is probably part of the point.
(Next section here.)