Wagner's 'Tristan und Isolde' -
'... the climaxes are prepared with meticulous cunning.'
Wagner's power in Tristan is such it would not matter if the producer had
the whole cast standing on its head throughout. Of little concern, then, that the
Barcelona Act 1 takes place in a closely riveted container ship, ploughing
towards Cornwall on an apparently immobile sea, with its sailors stuck in the
rigid attitude of Chinese tomb-warriors. The Act 2 torch hints comfortingly at a
Guy Fawkes bonfire, requiring all Isolde's cloak to put it out, while the
love-making must make do with a small rectangle of artificial grass and a watchful
Brangäne somewhere at the top of a free-standing metal ladder. The whitewashed
ward for Tristan's ravings in Act 3 is appropriate enough, and the dress-period
is tactfully indeterminate.
The composer had mighty bother finding singers for the work. Nor was it
auspicious that when Wagner eventually discovered the Schnorrs, his Tristan
died soon after the opening performances in 1865, and Isolde took leave of her
senses sufficiently to cause Wagner and Cosima irritation of commendable
originality. The royal librarian at Munich catalogued the work as
'Musica theoretica', and even Berlioz could make nothing of the prelude.
Tristan, then, is not to be tackled lightly, and it seems increasingly
seldom that artists of sufficient stature can be cast in the main parts. It is
no more than long experience to suspect the Barcelona pair may not prove ideal.
Copyright © 8 December 2005
Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt