Conductor - Kirill Petrenko
Production - Krzysztof Warlikowski
Tristan - Jonas Kaufmann
Isolde - Anja Harteros
King Mark - Mika Kares
Kurwenal - Wolfgang Koch
Brangäne - Okka von der Damerau
This is Wagner's Tristan und Isolde from the Bayerische Staatsoper. It's a regie production, naturally. Almost everything from there is. I'm not sure it provides a context. They all wear modern clothing, and we don't seem to be on a ship.
Tristan has traveled to Ireland to bring back the future bride of King Mark of Cornwall. He is there in his official capacity as representative of Cornwall. Actually Tristan and Princess Isolde have an already existing relationship. In a war between the two kingdoms, Tristan has killed Isolde's fiance and been seriously wounded in the process. Isolde with the help of Brangäne nursed him back to health.
On the journey she tries to order him around. He remains distant and sends his assistant, Kurwenal. This bit is not precisely clear. Brangäne prepares a potion that Tristan and Isolde are to share. Tristan drinks half, and then Isolde drinks the rest. They seem to think it will kill them, but instead they fall hopelessly in love. I thought the sudden falling in love was well handled. We appear to be doing social distancing in this production. No one touches in this part.
Isolde keeps turning the lights on and off. I'm not sure what that's about. I've never seen this character portrayed as perverse. A feature of this production is that we see the characters live on the stage and projected on the wall in the form of a film at the same time. Brangäne blames herself for administering the potion, but Isolde blames the Love Spirit who spreads love all around. Isolde sees herself without love as destined for death.
I am an hour and a half in and did not ever before realize what a bear of a part Isolde is. Other characters make brief appearances. Finally Tristan enters and they talk about their time traveling to Cornwall. She feels that she loved him then, but he was there in the role of foe. Now they cannot simply forget that they love one another. There is much discussion of which is better: day or night? Night is chosen. Tristan wants to die. The picture above comes from this section.
In the real world they sit in chairs and sing, but in the film behind they meet in the bedroom. I don't know why I like this, but I do.
They sing for a long time about death, then suddenly they take needles from a bowl on the table and give themselves shots. Death? The bed in the background is suddenly surrounded by water. Then people begin to enter. They are discovered. King Mark tells his story, that it was Tristan who thought he should marry. Isolde is hearing this story for the first time.
This hardly seems like the same opera. We want these two singers together in this opera because they are together emotionally.
Isolde says that she will follow Tristan to his home. Melot, the betrayer, complains and the two men draw swords. The bald person reappears. Melot stabs Tristan.
Bald people in uniforms drinking coffee? This part of the production I don't get. Tristan sits with them and drinks coffee. Next to him they look like children. All but one appear to be puppets. A return to childhood? An English horn plays on the stage.
Kurvenal sings to the puppet Tristan while Jonas sings. Then they exchange places. The puppet in the yellow blouse is Isolde herself. I don't think I realized before how little time Tristan and Isolde spend on stage together. I feel like I have never seen this opera before. Opera's greatest singing actors have brought it to life as never before. Absolutely stunning.
Old age advice. Do not mourn that your love cannot be fulfilled. Rejoice that passion can come to you.