Tristan & Isolde at Antwerp

It has to be said that the Flemish Opera are very fortunate to have Dmitri Jurowski as Music Director. He is a member of a notable family of conductors (see pp.152-153 of my book Travels with My Opera Glasses Unsurprisingly I have been impressed by his interpretation of Russian scores, including Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa. But I was bowled over by his recent Tristan at Antwerp – this was quite the most exciting performance of the work that I have ever heard. The way that the emotional tension increased during Isolde’s narration in Act One and even more so before her arrival from Cornwall in Act Three was almost physical in its intensity. And this was not at the expense of detail in phrasing, or delicacy in the quieter lyrical moments, or in the overall shaping of the piece. He got everything right.

The singers in the title roles were first-rate, Lioba Braun a passionate Isolde, Franco Farina a forthright and tireless Tristan; so too their sidekicks, Martine Dike and Martin Gantner. But what of the production? In short is was a misconception: setting the work as a kind of gangster B-movie trivialised rather than intensified its emotional impact. Add to that two bad errors during what should be the climax, the Liebestod. Irritatingly and distractingly lightning continuing to flash on and off at the back of the stage; and watching poor Farina having to clamber to his feet as he was “resurrected” was not the best image to induce belief in Love in Death. What a pity!