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Archive for July, 2018

Nobody has to cry for Argentina because of the World Cup: they still have Daniel Barenboim, who brought them not the championship, but the Deutsche Staatsoper for a Gastspiel at the Teatro Colón involving a whole series of Brahms symphonies and Harry Kupfer’s staging of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

I have seen Barenboim conduct Tristan at the Lindenoper and at the Schiller-Theater, but the experience of hearing him in a different venue, especially in the famous acoustics of the Colón, made the experience of listening to the Argentinian maestro in this work even more illuminating.
In my opinion, Barenboim has no rivals in this score, unless we are speaking of recordings by the likes of Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan or Karl Böhm. This evening’s performance was probably the most balanced Tristan I have ever heard from Barenboim, if not necessarily the most emotionally overwhelming. The more spacious and analytic acoustics may have something to do with that: one could hear an ant walking on stage. In terms of clarity, it felt like reading the score, but the sound picture was a bit more distant than one would experience in smaller venues such as those used by the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin. In any case, after a prelude in which the maestro took a while to fit in the brass section, the first act moved with a daringly – and difficult to pull off – gradual heightening of tension. There was no Birgit Nilsson or Jon Vickers in the cast and at first the atmosphere seemed almost casual in airy orchestral sound and leisurely tempi. Only when Tristan and Isolde were alone at last, the audience could feel that this was a culmination of an unbroken line that started on the first bar in the prelude.
Act 2 flowed most naturally in unexaggerated buoyancy and plenty of leeway for lyricism. The entrance of King Marke felt therefore like a reality shock. Truth be said, that scene lacked pathos and had to be electroshocked back to life in the last five minutes.  The final act, unfortunately, involved some adjustments to help singers, but one has to admire the conductor’s mastery in making the orchestra his main soloist nonetheless. The musicians in the pit alone were able to tell everything you need to know about Tristan’s spiritual anguish, and the strings, in soft yet rich sound, sang the Liebestod in a way that made the soprano unnecessary.
Anja Kampe is a singer I like in spite of her hard-to-overlook imperfections. Today both her assets and liabilities were pretty much in evidence. Her sensuous-toned soprano, particular warm in its lower reaches, is apt for the role of Isolde and she produced some powerful acuti when necessary, but she lacks projection and the middle register was often hard to hear. She is an expressive artist who never fails to communicate the meaning of the text in her singing either through tone coloring or word-pointing and offered many new insights. I was satisfied with the trade-off, but grey tonal quality and effort finally turned me off. The Liebestod sounded as if she was marking, and, well, as the saying goes, if you mess the last act, then you’ve messed the whole opera. In terms of acting, I confess I’ve seen a more dignified and feminine Waltraud Meier in it, and Ms. Kampe sounded a tad prosaic in comparison.
Angela Denoke is my first soprano Brangäne, and this evening I could understand why there are advocates of casting a high voice there. First, the role sounds less regal and some testing passages (such as the warnings in act 2) easier and more natural. Denoke has had her ups and downs I n her career and she seems to have found a middle ground this evening. Her voice is still appealingly natural in sound, but she sounds a bit desperate when things get high and loud. Then she sounds hooty and pitch can be approximative. In compensation, she has very clear diction and acts famously. I would often find myself looking at her when other singers were in charge.
I have to confess that I was not eager to hear Peter Seiffert as Tristan once more. I had seen him both at the Deutsche Oper and in the Staatsoper in Berlin and it never ended very well. This evening, however, he was in good voice and avoided as much as he could to force his high g’s in an open tone as he has done as Siegmund in Salzburg . For the first two acts, he sang in youthful voice and with a welcome lyric quality and I even hoped he would go through act 3 unscathed. To his defense, I can say that once things went awry around his second big “monologue”, he was admirably cold-blooded enough to recover and sing more or less what he had to sing until his death scene. In terms of acting,  the interaction with the soprano and the baritone seemed to have had an effect on him. Although one still cannot use the word “engagement”, this showed undeniable improvement.
Boaz Daniel (Kurwenal) beefs up his baritone, but he sings with unshakable focus and has a very likable personality. Moreover, his voice, even darkened, is pleasant. Unfortunately, Kwangchul Youn was in an off-day and sang the part of King Marke in a tremulous and grainy voice.
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