(Previous section here.)
It’s apparently also a staging convention for this opera that the role of King Marke is sung by René Pape. I can’t say that I mind. But the big draw for me in this case was Nina Stemme as Isolde. Stemme’s Isolde is mildly terrifying in Act I – Isolde’s combination of impassivity and intensity makes the character seem “off” in a way that feels perfectly correct: one is not surprised to find that this is a woman whose go-to solution in a tricky interpersonal situation is DEATH FOR US BOTH. (Also, at one point, she administers a good kick to Katarina Karnéus’s rather cringy Brangäne, who just might deserve it. I liked Dalayman in the Met’s production better in this role; she had a little more force and dignity. But Karnéus doesn’t sound bad. There are moments in both Act I and particularly in Act II when Brangäne is off stage ringing the changes on “beware!” where the sound is luminous and pretty.)
I never quite warmed to Robert Gabill’s Tristan. Partly it’s the doofus hair – I am profoundly unsympathetic to Tristans with Frasier hair. There were several moments, e.g. during Tristan’s first interaction with Isolde in Act I where I found myself thinking “what a pretty sound that man is making.” But for whatever reason I did not end up gripped by it.
-Bo Skovhus as Kurwenal sounded particularly good in the first part of Act III, where he’s watching over Tristan. I’m not yet sure what I am supposed to think of this character – he seems to undergo his own little arc between his initial mocking hostility to Isolde through his death at the end, but I’m not yet sure what it is.
-This may be in part because I keep getting distracted by the score. The conductor of this performance was Jiri Belohlavek. I don’t know the score of this opera as well as I might, but the opening part sounded quite slow and spacious; in contrast, the scene a little later on in Act I where Tristan and Isolde are having their potion moment seemed to go by very quickly – or maybe I was just enjoying it?
This is probably more a result of hearing the opera twice within the past week or two rather than anything particular to this interpretation, but I noticed a lot of detail in the orchestral writing that I hadn’t before – e.g. how the various potions appear musically as Brangäne and Isolde talk about them, or in general some of the truly otherworldly stuff that happens in the orchestra now and then – there was a section near the beginning of Act II, maybe four or five minutes in, that made me think of what I believe Stemme said in an interview about Isolde’s music : “music from outer space.” It really kind of is.
(BUt I admit, after I was done with this and tired of thinking about it I went to YouTube and watched a few clips of Handel’s Serse just so I could get to feeling normal again. Terra firma, etc.)