Richness and Humanity

Wagner – Tristan und Isolde

Tristan – Robert Dean Smith

König Marke – Albert Dohmen

Isolde – Violeta Urmana

Kurwenal – Matthias Goerne

Melot – Clemens Unterreiner

Brangäne – Elisabeth Kulman

Ein Hirt – Carlos Osuna

Ein Steuermann – Marcus Pelz

Simme eines jungen Seemanns – Sebastian Kohlhepp

Chor der Wiener Staatsoper, Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Peter Schneider

Stage director – David McVicar.

Wiener Staatsoper, Vienna.  Friday, December 13th, 2013


This was my fourth visit to the Wiener Staatsoper since starting this blog and it’s a house with a great tradition if inconsistent quality.  I saw a superb Billy Budd  there but I also saw a dreary Forza that was a disappointment.  The Forza and tonight’s Tristan had the wonderful Violeta Urmana in common.  As in her recent Eboli in Berlin, it’s clear that La Urmana has entered the next stage in her career.  Yet tonight her performance was utterly captivating at the centre of an excellent cast in a show that was outstandingly sung and conducted and played with distinction.

It wasn’t perfect but it was certainly human.  Perhaps the weakest link was Robert Dean Smith’s Tristan.  He wasn’t bad, not by any means, rather that he spent a lot of the time underneath the note and the support seemed lacking at times so that ends of phrases did not seem to be sustained.  It’s a taxing role for sure and he acquitted himself well, it’s just that I would say that it was not quite on the same level as his colleagues.

Elisabeth Kulman was a wonderful Brangäne, her copper tone contrasting nicely with Urmana’s and she floated her act 2 solo from the tower to perfection. She was also a striking stage presence. Matthias Goerne sang Kurwenal with grainy tone yet with a lieder singer’s attention to text. Albert Dohmen’s Marke made a character who can seem to drone on interminably genuinely interesting by his clarity of diction and pointing of the text.

Then there was Urmana.  She was the main reason I attended the show and she did not disappoint.  I’ve heard her sing this role three times now and this was by far the best.  It’s true that the voice has lost some freshness but she can still pull out some fabulous top Cs and also sing with incredible beauty as in ‘o sink hernieder’.  Where she has gained is in interpretative insight and she sang the curse like a woman possessed.  Above all she gave us a character who was truly regal but also genuinely human.

Peter Schneider replaced the advertised Chung Myunwhung and he conducted a thrilling account of the score eliciting playing of great depth and richness from the orchestra.  Other than some slight tuning and ensemble issues in the strings, they played fabulously.  Tempi were fluid and kept constantly moving which meant the hours flew by.

I found McVicar’s staging to be both engaging and infuriating in equal measure.  Infuriating because he added a corps of buff sailors making stylized dance movements who, while adding eye candy, distracted from the principals and served no real purpose.  Their use was intermittent and it felt added on and superfluous.  Sets and costumes seemed to combine the sci fi and the ancient as if to give it some measure of timelessness but otherwise provided an attractive enough framework for the action without being particularly enlightening.

This was a superb interpretation of this important work.  It represented opera at the very highest level at a house when at the top of its game as it was tonight can be one of the best in the world.

Photo: © Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Plöhn


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