Tristan und Isolde - Welsh National Opera - Cardiff Millenium Centre, 19 May 2012
Ben Heppner’s heartening return to form was one of the best things about the revival of WNO’s 20 year old Tristan on Saturday night. His expressive way with the words was built on the sensitive control of every vocal colour in his palette. A minor crack in the second act and some tiring in the third were forgiveable blemishes. His ungainly appearance only underlined his anti-heroic, supremely human portrait.
I was less convinced by the Isolde of Ann Petersen, though anyone who prefers accuracy to expression would probably disagree. Vocal production this firm, even and tireless is in itself something of a miracle in this part. But there was nothing approaching the gleam of ecstasy in her pleasant rounded timbre, and little nuance. Perhaps she will grow into the role, but I suspect her Covent Garden Freia this autumn will be a better fit for her talents.
The rest were a mixed bunch. Susan Bickley was a reliably insistent Brangäne and Matthew Best a dignified and sonorous Marke, but Philip Joll’s Kurwenal blustered more notes than he sang. A pleasant surprise was Simon Crosby Buttle, normally a chorus member, who sang the Sailor and Shepherd parts exquisitely.
After his excellent 2010 Meistersinger, Lothar Koenigs once again proved himself a Wagner conductor of distinction. His approach is somewhat broad-brush, with no apparent inclination to pull things around or highlight details. But his tempos and balances were well-judged, with a fine sense of the score’s twists and turns, and he brewed up a lush and propulsive sound from the WNO orchestra.
Yannis Kokkos's minimalist production is inoffensive, but it's showing its age. A strange combination of blocky art deco lines and realist detail (bottles of potion, spears, etc), it neither enlightens nor intrudes, though the sheer amount of stuff on stage does squeeze the singers into uncompromising intimacy.