Although Die tote Stadt is considered Korngold’s best opera, it had fallen of grace since the days when divas like Maria Jeritza appeared in it in opera houses like the Met. Until the 1980′s, when the Deutsche Oper (with Karan Armstrong and James King) gave it a try and performances occasionally but increasingly pop up here and there. I had never seen it live and know it from Erich Leinsdorf’s recording with Carol Neblett, René Kollo and Hermann Prey. I have to say that I still have to learn to like Korngold, but it is also true that I’ve never tried really hard. In any case, I had very low expectations, and this is always helpful in these situations.

On listening again to the Leinsdorf CDs, I’ve almost changed my mind about actually going to the New National Theatre today: the plot is bizarre, the demands on singers and orchestra are extreme, the music rarely takes off and, when it does, it turns out quite kitsch. Fortunately, the forces involved in this production – developed for the Finnish National Opera as seen on video with Camilla Nylund and Klaus Florian Vogt – took the challenge seriously. I cannot blame director Kasper Holten for sanitizing the staging of its pierrots, nuns, orgiastic dance numbers and gondolas. He has also found a not unwelcome comedy touch in serious scenes that helped the audience to indulge into something suspension of disbelief. However, the grotesque is a bit part of the story and this opera loses some of its flavor when rescued from its cheesiness. Conductor Jaroslav Kyzlink too has decided to deny it its operetta-ish undertones and go for the Frau-ohne-Schatten approach. And for someone like me who hasn’t yet acquired the taste for this opera, this seemed the right decision. The performance moved forward without indulgence, highlighting the coloristic orchestration and preferring objectivity to sentimentality. Of course, the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra is not Leinsdorf’s Müncher Rundfunkorchester, but – even if its strings like warmth and weight – these musicians played with great animation. Unfortunately, the effort would become more noticeable during the opera. The prelude to the third act was everything but polished. But the animation was still there – and that the conductor could keep it throughout is really praiseworthy.

I had seen Meagan Miller just once before – as Elisabeth here in the New National Theatre. It seems that bad girls bring the best in her. Although the voice lacks a distinctive color, has many tremulous moment and phrasing can be bumpy, she gave an exciting performance in the role of Marietta. First, her big lyric soprano is the voice for the role. Second, the high tessitura shows her best qualities (round, effortless top notes and endless stamina). Third, the provocative character suits her vocal nature better than the spiritual subtlety of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Also, although she wouldn’t convince anyone that she could be a dancer, she seemed to be having the time of her life playing the femme fatale. It is hardly her fault if Torsten Kerl was this afternoon’s shining star. His spontaneous, glitch-free tenor gleams in this demanding part. And he sings elegantly and musicianly too. Under a conductor who never forgot his singers, his jugendlich dramatisch voice could be heard without problem. Moreover, if René Kollo sounds more tormented in the CDs, it is Kerl who makes this music sound singable and expressive in his tasteful legato and almost classical poise. I would say that the director did not seem to demand from him any sort of spiritual torment, the approach being rather detached and caricatured rather than internalized or intense. I had previously seen Anton Keremidtchev as Macbeth in Berlin and was positively surprised by the German side of his repertoire. His rich, sizable voice worked very well both in Frank’s conversational phrasing and in Fritz’s aria, in which I curiously didn’t miss Hermann Prey’s sophistication and variety. Although Makiko Yamashita (Brigitta) was not very clear in diction, her voice is extremely pleasant and the singer is stylish. All minor roles were well cast too.

Once when I showed a video of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s Madama Butterfly to a Japanese friend, she would say “eeeh… that’s so strange” every 30 seconds. As I had never seen any Japanese production of Puccini’s Japanese opera, I thought that Tamiya Kuriyama’s 2005 staging for the New National Theatre could be a good opportunity to check if the Western stagings I had previously seen would look so different in comparison. Well, I am glad to see that European directors are not terribly off the mark. The big picture this evening was quite similar to what I had previously experienced in New York and in Berlin. Of course, there was a plethora of tiny details that made an important cumulative effect, but I guess those are only noticeable once you’ve lived in Japan. As it is, Kuriyama does not try to relate this to any form of Japanese theatre or any other Japanese traditional art. The scenery is stylized in an almost detached way – Butterfly’s house has no walls but for some shouji upstage, you know that her wedding takes place in autumn for the kouyou leaves on the floor and that Pinkerton comes back in spring for the sakura that replaces them. Other than this, costumes and props are quite “Japanese”.

If someone is responsible for some atmosphere here this is conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, who has done a splendid job in her symphonic approach, good ear for color effects, eschewal of sentimentality and a sense of theatre that has nothing to do with gimmickry. The Tokyo Symphony showed itself at its most engaged and the always excellent choristers offered a haunting humming chorus. Ms. Wilson is a conductor I would like to hear again in an opera house. She was lucky to have Alexia Voulgaridou in the title role. Although the part is a bit on the heavy side for her  (the first part of act II found her a bit tired and she went off steam in her big aria, for instance), her velvety, floating soprano, incapable of a shrill sound, has the necessary youthful tone and morbidezza for this role. She has obviously studied Mirella Freni’s recording for Karajan and was able to produce on stage the famous Italian soprano’s vulnerability, congeniality and sincerity. In spite of the occasional awkward turn of phrase, this was an inspired and touching performance, helped by the Bulgarian soprano’s ideal physique and reasonable acting abilities. It is sad that a more persuasive Pinkerton could not be found: Mikhail Agafonov squeezes his high notes and is not intonation’s best friend. Tomoko Obayashi’s dark-toned and well-focused mezzo was ideally employed for Suzuki. Furthermore, she could produce a less two-dimensional characterization of a role often restricted to cardboard level. Eijiro Kai too was an above-average Sharpless. His tone has a pleasant, warm sound and he is capable of nuance.

When you have an impressively supple orchestra such as the one in the Vienna State Opera, a conductor must feel tempted to pull all the stops. Therefore, I understand Michael Güttler’s inclination to make it fast and loud and exciting – and the outpouring of glittering, transparent and clear sounds from the pit were indeed a pleasure in itself. I doubt that someone might be able to listen to Rossini’s score more adeptly played than this evening. But then there are singers on stage too – and we must certainly consider them in bel canto repertoire. In the program book, we read that, when the new opera house by the Kärntner Straße was opened in 1869, there were doubts if works like La Cenerentola could be performed there, because “only a few singers were able to fill the large hall with their voices”. Precisely. Although the Vienna State Opera does not have a huge auditorium for today’s standards, it is still large enough and the orchestral sound can be overwhelming, as this evening. The first time I’ve heard La Cenerentola live, Olga Borodina sang the title role in the Metropolitan Opera House. Then I wrote ” Although her manners are a bit grand for poor-thing Cinderella, listening to such an exquisite opulent voice move so gracefully through Rossinian phrases is something every admirer of bel canto should do. Rarely has the triumph of goodness sounded as triumphant as in the crowning glory of the Russian mezzo’s rendition of the closing scene”. I could not help thinking of that performance this evening, when singers were in such disadvantage. Part of me wished that the orchestra could be a little bit more discrete to accommodate the cast, but ultimately I wished that singers such as the young Borodina could be found to make it all really exciting.

Vivica Genaux is no Borodina. Her lean mezzo soprano has limited volume, but a bright edge makes it hearable, especially in its lower end. The problem is that the part of Angelina often confines her to areas of her voice when she could not really pierce through a formidable orchestra. To make things a little bit more problematic, her high notes were not truly there this evening. Her impressive control of fast divisions helped her to distract the audience from that problem, but the variations offered in the final scene could not replace the climactic high notes Rossini expected his audiences to hear. In any case, her coloratura is indeed very exciting and could keep you in the edge of your seat in the prevailing fast tempi. Her Prince Charming, Dmitry Korchak, couldn’t help smearing a bit his runs under the circumstances. His voice is rounder, more natural and stronger-centered than most tenors in this repertoire – and his high notes are refreshingly forceful and firm. One could see that producing graceful, gentle phrasing requires great concentration from him, and I wonder how long he will resist moving to lighter lyric roles (and eventually to full lyric parts). If Nicolay Borchev’s baritone is a bit thick and dark for Italian roles, he is more faithful to his fioriture than many a singer in the role of Dandini. He is unexaggeratedly funny and has good pronunciation. The only Italian in the cast, Paolo Rumetz, offered an unexaggerated performance as well as Don Magnifico, but there were too many moments of inaudibility for comfort. Although Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s voice is a bit light for Alidoro, he sang forcefully and stylishly. Both singers cast as Tisbe and Clorinda needed more focused voice to be heard in ensembles.

Sven-Eric Bechtholf sets the action in the 1950′s and keeps everything extremely busy and frantic. Sometimes, during important arias, parallel action takes place in the background for laughs, what is a bit disrespectful both for the composer and the musicians performing his music. At first, the action suggested something Fellini-ian and that seemed promising, but then the whole thing started to get frankly silly à la Roberto Benigni: Alidoro is here some sort of flirtatious Don Alfonso with some supernatural powers (whereas Rossini precisely asks the opposite of that), the Prince has a Freudian thing with sport cars and all the scenes in the palace take place in his garage – banquet and wedding included. Characters who are supposed not to hear something are often in places where they would have to be deaf not to hear that; sometimes they are placed in a way that collides with the situation described in the libretto, making for awkward maneuvers to get character X quickly in position B etc. In the end, I had the impression that the director does not truly believe in this opera and decided that his helping hand would make it better. Well, the long change of sets certainly made it lenghtier.

Christmas was yesterday, and the ingestion of Gänsebraten and Sekt is usually high this time of the year. For singers who had to appear in Beethoven’s Fidelio the next day, this must have required tremendous willpower. Anyway, one member of the cast – the Leonore, Ricarda Merbeth, did not even make it. Anja Kampe had to be flown in to take the title role. As almost everyone else, the German soprano was not in a good-voice day, but, as much as Leonore, sie hat Mut and has risked her vocal folds (as many singers before her) for the love of Beethoven. Some would say that Ms. Kampe does not have the high notes for the role, but my impression is that the notes are indeed there – the technique to handle them not really. She has a beautiful, warm voice, a sensitive and musicianly way of building her phrases and is always dramatically on, but one could see that she knew beforehand that some passages would simply not work as written and that the make-do solutions are rather part of her performance than accidents in it. As it was, whenever things got high and loud (and they often do), the options were crooning or shouting. She is an intelligent singing actress and would invariably found a plausible theatrical attitude to justify this, except in her big aria, when things really went astray. Because of her generosity as an artist, she had the audience on her side, but it would be sad to see her eventually pay the price of such hazardous use of her voice.

Peter Seiffert seemed to have avoided the effects of Christmas supper and was really keen on preferring heroic to lyrical singing, although the latter usually suits his vocal nature better. In any case, this evening, his voice sounded at once large, focused, flexible and dulcet, even in the trickiest passages. Maybe as a tribute to René Kollo (who appears in this same production on video), he tried the messa di voce in his first note, which, as much as with Kollo, did not work very well. But other than this, he offered a truly satisfying performance.

Tomasz Konieczny, on the other hand, must have had a hell of a Christmas, for his entrance made me worry for him. He, basically, looked very ill: his hands shaking, his breathing very loud and labored, his face flushed, he missed one entry, then the text and his voice seemed to be all over the place. Either he is an excellent actor with a wildly misguided concept of the role or he was a hero to sing the part of Pizarro in that condition. Fortunately, he gradually recovered and, in the second act, peeled the paint off the walls with truly stentorian singing in his confrontation with Mr. and Ms. Florestan. I confess I was surprised to see the name of the more-than-veteran Matti Salminen in the important role of Rocco. Although his voice is still admirably firm and characterful, it now is essentially very rough, with some grey-toned patches in his range. He is a bête-de-scène and has no problem in making this work; however,  in an evening where almost every soloist required some adjustment, I only hoped during the first act that I would hear a reliable and unproblematic piece of singing.

Ildiko Raimondi’s soprano is a bit juiceless and intonation has its dodgy moments, but she does not spoil the fun at all. Her Jaquino, Sebastian Kohlhepp, proved to be in far better shape, but his singing lacked variety and imagination. Finally, the role of Don Fernando requires a voice completely different from that of Boaz Daniel.

If this performance proved to be something special, we owe this to the impressive playing of the Vienna State Orchestra under the wide-ranging conducting of Franz Welser-Möst. The State Opera’s General Musical Director was at his most Toscanini-an, pressing forward with ruthless rhythmic precision and extracting excitingly accurate playing from his musicians even in extremely fast tempi. For instance, this was the fastest O welche Lust that I have ever heard, more nervous and ominous than touching and hopeful. All concertati challenged soloists and choristers in their fast pace, but not the orchestra, which could not only cope with the technical demands, but also comment the action with wide tonal variety and produce rather than respond to the different shifts of mood in the score and the libretto. The maestro would make an exception for Pizarro’s scene in the dungeon in act II – there he opted to produce excitement rather from accent and accuracy, what made his soloists more comfortable and allowed him enough leeway to build into a powerful Es schlägt der Rache Stunde. Since the Mahlerian tradition of playing the Leonore no.3 before the closing tableau is still very much respected in Vienna, the audience received a Christmas gift in an orchestral tour de force to make you forget that there are other orchestras in the world. Few conductors would risk to take an opera house orchestra to its limits of dynamic possibilities, articulation and balance as successfully as we heard it today - the level of power, precision and transparence achieved by Mr. Welser-Möst and his musicians was something one could tell his or her grandchildren. Truly uplifting.

Although Schubert is probably the most famous and prolific Lieder composer, he had an unrequited love for opera that never resulted a stage work currently in the repertoire. He flirted too with oratorio, but his religious drama in three acts has only survived in incomplete form. Nobody knows if Schubert gave up composing it in the beginning of act II or if he composed further than the extant material. It seems that there is very little doubt about the incompletion of the work – apparently, the exalted final scene was a puzzle that the composer could not solve. In any case, one would be surprised by Schubert’s proto-Wagnerian use of a durchkomponiert structure in which the boundaries of arioso and accompagnato are blurred and by the sustained nobility of his melodic invention. If the subject is extremely non-theatrical, it is not really his fault.

It is, then, particularly curious that Claus Guth has decided to stage this unstageable work. For that purpose, Guth and Dramaturg Konrad Kuhn have completed the piece with Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question and “The “Saint-Gaudens” in Boston Common and choral pieces by Schubert himself plus Webern’s orchestral version of Der Wegweiser from Winterreise. I was surprised by how effective the connection of the incomplete aria and Ives’s piece for trumpet, woodwind and strings. What happened after that – it is probably my lack of imagination – did not add anything to the “story”, to Guth’s own scenario or to the issues discussed in the libretto, unless we consider that as an image of the impossibility of discussing the theme. In any case, the “action” is set in an airport lounge. A man knows he is going to die and, utterly alone in the crowd, projects his doubts and thoughts in different persons in the crowd before he actually dies. The second scene shows an empty version of the lounge – the “characters” from the man’s imaginary dialogues are now his family and friends, including the suicidal Simon. After his funeral (i.e., the end of Schubert’s composition), there are dream-like passages involving the chorus, the depressive Simon and a sense that life goes on. I still dislike the fact that August Niemeyer’s libretto does have an ending (which everybody knows from the Bible) and this has been disregarded. I also have a problem with some silly/lazy scenic solutions: since Nathanael speaks about Jesus, he is a priest; Jemina speaks of roses, so she spreads petals on the airport lounge ground; Maria is here a modern woman and when she becomes too XIXth century in behavior, she has a “what am I doing?!”-gesture. However, all that said, it is praiseworthy that Guth and his creative have actually tried to do something out of this – and the staging has many visually catchy moments. Also, the soloists and chorus members are exceptionally well directed.

I know Lazarus exclusively from Helmut Rilling’s recording. Conductor Michael Boder offers something far more dramatic and Sturm-und-Drang compared to Rilling’s Biedermeier spiritual serenity. The Wiener Symphoniker responded to this approach with lean and dry sonorities, aptly more classical than Romantic. The Arnold Schoenberg Chor has sung again with great polish and beauty of sound. This is a challenging work for soloists: Schubert requires the kind of instrumental and multicolored vocalità that does not go really well with orchestral sound. In Rilling’s recording, all soloists – with one exception – are Lieder singers aided by kind microphones who offer performances of apollonian beauty (and little drama). For instance, Sybilla Rubens (Rilling) is Schubertian grace incarnated, while Annette Dasch’s performance as Maria is wider in range, richer in tone and not less stylish and musicianly. Actually, this is probably the best performance I have ever heard from her. Stephanie Houtzeel (Martha) too sang elegantly and expressively, but was sorely taxed by Schubert’s incomplete aria (of which Camilla Nylund offers a most commendable account for Rilling). Çigdem Soyarslan (Jemina) is a name to keep – the tone is fruity and gentle and her phrasing is appealing and sensitive. Kurt Streit’s tenor has seen firmer and rounder days, but it is still a pleasant, clear voice – and he sings with great purity of line and excellent diction. Ladislav Elgr’s sound is healthier and better focused, but he is working hard here to produce a Schubertian sound. Both are somehow exposed by Jan Petryka, a tenor invited to sing a solo in Schubert’s choral piece “Nachthelle”, whose soaring high register and appealing mezza voce are everything this music requires. Florian Boesch offered a gripping, stylish and expressive performance of the score’s most interesting aria – and he could get a Tony for his acting. I still believe that there is more in his voice than he is actually using, but anyway he can do no wrong in Schubert.

The Christmas Oratorio is generally put in second place to the Matthäus- and Johannes-Passionen because of its lack of theatricality and relatively less complex structure. Its expressive style is certainly more direct and puts greater emphasis on its soloists. This is probably why it is usually the less successful of many Bach vocal work collections that have gone well with only fair soloists. To make things worse, Karl Richter’s recording – which has introduced this work to many listeners since it has been released – has a legendary group of soloists, including Fritz Wunderlich, whose singing in this repertoire has never been matched by any tenor before or after him. By a large margin.

This evening, all soloists could not stand the shadow of such formidable competition. But this is hardly their fault. Now when it comes to Erwin Ortner’s faults, it is debatable if we are talking about culpa in eligendo or culpa in vigilando. He clearly sees this work as music for religious service and opts for an undramatic, very comfortably paced and phrased approach in which you can hear the choral texts without difficulty. He uses a large chorus (around 50) for a small orchestra (six first violins) in the Vienna Philharmonic’s home hall. If Mr. Ortner has made a good decision, this was the extremely smooth-toned Arnold Schoenberg, the pellucid and homogeneous sound of which never overwhelming and very transparent. His orchestra, however, is on the scrawny side (the violin solo particularly problematic, especially in what regards intonation) and, in order to cope with the choral forces, produced abrasive sounds throughout. I understand that the point was to avoid exuberance and make it straight to the point – but, if this is religious music, the point is CONVEYING the point to the congregation. In this sense, the performance was not really communicative, especially in the sixth cantata, which requires far more relief. As a matter of fact, the whole performance lacked relief, in the sense of definition, contour, of conveying a point. For instance, the only point I could see in the flaccid Herrscher des Himmels, erhöre das Lallen was that it was an example of the “matten Gesänge” from the text… I don’t mean by this that every performance should sound like Diego Fasolis’s or John Eliot Gardiner’s: more considerate tempi are not incompatible with firm accents and clear rhythms but they do require a high level of polish, since you do have the time to notice how wrong things can go, and excitement cannot be used as an excuse here.

In theory, Sunhae Im is a more than plausible Bach soprano: she has very long breath, is rhythmically accurate and is pure-toned. However, judging from this evening, there is a problem of tessitura, to start with. She seems to be singing in the less congenial part of her voice most of the time, does not project very well and can sound more vinegary than bell-toned sometimes The idea of giving her some passages usually sung by the chorus proved to be ineffective. Here the Richter recording serves an example of what kind of singer one needs to perform this in a larger hall (we are talking about Gundula Janowitz, but those were different days…). In any case, my personal reference here is Claron McFadden in Gardiner’s DVD, who sings with unusual fervor and truly “speaks” her words to the audience. I myself find an inspiration in the confident and defiant way she says that God is on her side in Nur ein Wink von seiner Händen. God seemed to be unwilling to give a helping hand this evening.

Although Wiebke Lehmkuhl’s voice too is on the light side, her performance only grew in strength after an uninspired Schlafe, mein Liebster, in which she was sabotaged by the lack of atmosphere and fast tempo chosen by the conductor (which brought an almost yodeling quality to her singing) and the memory of Christa Ludwig’s immensely touching performance for Richter, in which the sense of maternal care and of awe for her savior are perfectly balanced (if she had recorded only this aria, she would still be remembered as a very important singer). In any case, Lehmkuhl’s Schließe, mein Herze was beautifully and sensitively sung, even if the violin solo was hard to digest.

Werner Güra was an extremely sweet-toned Evangelist, but lacked tone in his arias, where his flexibility was otherwise admirable. Since I’ve last saw Florian Boesch, his voice has become poorer in overtones in both ends of his range. I don’t know if he was trying to out-Klaus Mertens Klaus Mertens, but this only had the effect of making him sometimes hard to hear and quite rough-toned in his higher reaches. Other than this, he too has excellent divisions and, when not hard pressed, the tonal quality is still very pleasant.

Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is an opera often described as metaphysical, profound, transcendental and musicians and members of the audience often approach it with extreme reverence, often trying to frame their experience of the opera itself by a priori concepts rather than by the experience itself. Not today – my neighbours this evening behaved as if they were watching an adventure film in the movie theatre. A couple next to me seemed to have found it highly entertaining – they even laughed of the Liebestod. When I was going to get angry, I realized that the fact that they were watching it under a completely different light (even if bothersome and disrespectful one) made me realize that someone else - and a very important one – seemed to be seeing the whole thing with fresh eyes and ears. And this was veteran conductor Peter Schneider.

I had seen Maestro Schneider conduct this work in Bayreuth and praised his flexible beat and the beauty of the orchestral sound. On reading what I wrote then, I cannot help noticing that it has nothing to do with this evening, when the conductor seemed to have taken everything at face value: there was no concerns of producing important sounds, of manipulating tempo to produce gravitas or of adding any kind of profoundness. On the contrary, he kept a very regular beat that could give the impression that he could relax more either in exciting or meditative moments, his orchestra produced distinctively bright sounds in the string section and never overshadowed the other sections, his approach was built towards very clean, singing lines of accompanying figures that shared with the soloists the same degree of importance. Since we are talking about Wagner, the accompanying figures – although played with nearly Donizetti-ian flavor – are almost invariably Leitmotive and their variation. That made this evening revelatory in terms of structural clarity. Also, the house orchestra’s playing had an urgency that sometimes tampered with polish, but kept you in the edge of your seat in a Marth Argerich-ian way, especially in passages where the violins were able to showcase outstanding flexibility. As a result, the performance – in its lack of austerity – often seemed blunt in its obstinate forward-movement, its Verdian glittery passageworks, its almost bombastic succession of chords attacked straight-to-the-matter. As the soloists too seemed determined to avoid venerability and had almost all of them very clear diction, many scenes sounded quite new to me shorn of their dignified grandeur. This evening, Isolde’s indignation in act I had more than a splash of whim and Brangäne’s selflessness something of meddling for her own amusement; Tristan’s obscure musings in act II sound less philosophical than testosterone-ridden. If I give the impression that this made the story more superficial, do not mistake my words: I’ve found it quite refreshing to see these characters more realistic in their motivations in a storyline almost devoid of action.

This is the first time I could see Violeta Urmana in a complete performance as Isolde. I’ve heard a broadcast from Rome long ago and saw her sing act II in a concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker and have found her one of the most interesting singers in this role these days. She was announced indisposed and took almost the entire first act to warm up and, even after that, had to carefully negotiate some high-and-loud passages, but she hasn’t disappointed me. First, there is some almost Italianate vocal glamour in her performance: the low and medium registers are warm and fruity, she is capable of legato and soft attack in lyric passages and the edge on her acuti (which can be bothersome in recordings) do help her to pierce through when the orchestra is really loud. Second, although she is not a terrific actress, she has studied this role with unusual attentiveness – she clearly knows her words, has an opinion about her character and portrays all that with both the verbal specificity of a Lieder singer and the attitude of someone who has sung roles like Norma or Aida. Third, she is bien deans sa peau in this role, which she portrays with sensuousness and femininity. This is really more than we can say about most Isoldas.

Her Tristan was Robert Dean Smith, whom I had seen in this part in Bayreuth, also with Peter Schneider. There, the acoustics helped him a lot. This evening, the lack of squillo in his high register sometimes made him inaudible amidst an unleashed Vienna State Orchestra. The role is still very distant to his personality, but this production makes his work harder to see to this problem. The results are not entirely convincing, but – in the context of this performance – this vulnerable, young-sounding Tristan makes particular sense. Especially when he sings so musically and with absolute technical security (his breath is impressively long, to start with).

The role of Brangäne is on the heavy side for Elisabeth Kulman, but she is a smart singer with solid technique and by unfailing focus, crystalline diction and dramatic imagination produced a compelling performance. Matthias Goerne too finds the role of Kurwenal heavy for his voice. However, differently from Ms. Kulman, his whole method is incompatible with Wagnerian singing. In the rare lyrical moments in the part, he provides beauty of tone and sensitive phrasing, but he is often hectoring and producing white-toned high notes. Last but not least, Albert Dohmen – in spite of a rusty tonal quality – produced a far more varied and touching performance as King Marke than I could have expected, considering the last times I saw him.

There is not much to speak of David McVicar’s highly stylized and very superficial staging. I dislike the choreographed seamen but find the rest quite harmless in their basic colors and unobtrusiveness. However, although the production dates from 2013, it seems that the Personenregie is sometimes already lost. There were moments when these singers had not much idea of why they were doing what they were supposed to do and felt therefore free to do their thing. Fortunately, their “thing” often worked well this evening


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