Tristan und Isolde at the Bayreuther Festspiele
August 30, 2009
* Notes *
The closing performance of the Bayreuther Festspiele was Friday night's Tristan und Isolde. The orchestra had a full, even tone under the direction of Peter Schneider. However, the volume overwhelmed the singers in many cases. The singing started off roughly for the two principals, at first, Iréne Theorin (Isolde) shrieked flatly and Robert Dean Smith (Tristan) was nearly inaudible. As Brangäne, Michelle Breedt was shrill, and as Kurwenal, Jukka Rasilainen was monochrome. At least Martin Snell (Steuermann) sounded pretty and the chorus sang with vim.
The second act was a definite improvement. Theorin sang on key and blended nicely with Smith. Their duet was lovely. As König Marke, Robert Holl's voice was a grave contrast to Smith's. By the last act, Rasilainen pulled through, singing with emotion and beauty at the end. Smith gave an arresting performance in the first half of Act III, and was only muffled by the orchestra a few times. On the contrary, Theorin's Liebestod was conspiciously less dazzling, though her pianissimo at the beginning was exquisite.
The production from Christoph Marthaler was dull, we started the evening at the top of a building, and made our way down. Anna Viebrock's set involved peeling wallpaper and other signs of decay, and her costumes wended their way through the 20th century. The scenes were often static, but were punctuated with nonsensical movement. Kurwenal wandered around the periphery near the end of Act II and would periodically fall down. All the characters except Tristan and Isolde ended up facing the walls during the Liebestod.
* Tattling *
The audience murmured, and there was quite a lot of noise before the Liebestod, when more than one person exited the theater. The German man behind me in Row 15 Seat 24 on the right side of the Parkett hovered over me for much of Acts I and II, he touched my hair more than once. During Act III I decided the only way to be comfortable was to simply assert myself, so I sat on the cushion I brought but did not need, and sat as straight as possible. This worked very well. Unfortunately, my companion was less lucky, the American in Row 14 Seat 22 slept through much of the first two acts, but was woken when his cellular phone rang in the middle of Act II. At the second intermission he must have had a good deal of coffee, for I could smell his breath during Act III, as he stared over in our direction. Whilst awake, he elbowed my companion several times and also talked. It was utterly bizarre, he was in some sort of Wagner Society, had the libretto in German, and also extensive notes on all the operas at the Festspiele this year.
There were scattered boos when the curtain came down at the end, presumably for the boring staging and not Theorin.