The Royal Danish Opera’s latest offering is a semi-staged, concert production of Wagner’s great Romantic masterpiece Tristan and Isolde.
In all such productions, the stage set is minimal, and this one is no exception.
In the background, a giant moon, hanging over the action, changes appearance throughout as it follows love’s vicissitudes. Two little moons appear inside the main frame during the amorous encounter, whereas later, in the third act, it turns an apocalyptic red in connection with Tristan’s delirium.
The rest of the visuals are left to the audience’s imagination.
Eating Wagner for breakfast
In the foreground, the singers (in costume) have the daunting challenge of making their voices heard over astonishing, expanded orchestration just a few feet behind them.
Plaudits go to each and every performer, but special credit goes to Ann Petersen (Isolde). Petersen is an athletic singer: she looked as though she could have sung the Ring cycle later the same evening after this four-hour ‘warm-up’.
The tenor Christopher Ventris, playing Tristan, tried to match the vocal power of the soprano, but was slightly indisposed by voice issues on the evening we attended.
Also notable were the performances of Kyungil Ko as King Mark, Hanne Fischer as Brangaene, and Egils Silins as Kurwenal.
Orchestrating the show
But this is a production which is all about the orchestra.
In Bayreuth, Wagner started a revolution in music, expanding considerably the size of the orchestra until it reached 100 elements (sometimes playing simultaneously).
Inspired by that vision, this production places the vast orchestra not in the pit but on the stage, where, producing a huge wave of sounds, it becomes the soul of the opera.
All in all, the orchestra generates a sense of suspense that endures throughout, from the famous chord of the beginning, to the ‘Liebestod’, the song of love’s death, in which the two lovers look forward to a happy union in the life to come.