*Tristan und Isolde,* Act 2, 4/12/18
Jere, Dale, and I heard the second act of *Tristan und Isolde* at Carnegie Hall on 4/12/18. Andris Nelsons conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I'll talk about the singers one by one, but the reason we were there was to hear Jonas Kaufmann in his first outing as Tristan. He's one of the top Wagnerian tenors and hasn't been heard in New York much over the last few years. He said he wants to spend more time with his young family, blah blah blah. I'm lucky enough to have heard him at the Met many times, in *Tosca,* *Die Walküre,* *Faust,* *Parsifal,* and *Werther,* and also in recital at the Met. He knocked me out every time, he's an extraordinary singer.
The performance was fascinating, but was it a success? As befits one of the most revolutionary works of the 19th century, it raised more questions than it answered. Was this an opera or a concert? Along those lines, should we imagine this as a preview of what a full performance would be like with these singers, or is this only meant to exist as it was, in concert that night? Is the opera itself primarily lyrical or dramatic?
The one thing I can tell you, the opera itself is worth all the hype, it really is one of the masterworks of Western music. Endlessly fascinating, intellectually stimulating, emotionally rewarding, just plain genius.
Kaufmann was Tristan, and what a treat to hear him again (FYI he was the only one of the singers I had heard before). Beautiful, poised singing, always sure of what he wanted to achieve. Though strangely enough, for a role he hasn't sung before, his interpretation was maybe a little too manicured, a little too precise. Not canned or stale in the Streisand manner, but not exactly spontaneous or particularly vital.
Camilla Nylund was Isolde. Of all of the singers, I have the hardest time imagining her in the role. Her voice is essentially delicate in color, perfect for the Marschallin in *Der Rosenkavalier* but it wouldn't work for Isolde. She sounded great in the second act, she does her most lyrical singing in that act, but I doubt that Nylund could make it through Isolde's blazing first act narration and curse.
Mihoko Fujimura was Isolde's gal pal Brangäne, and she had the opposite problem - - she's a dyed-in-the-wool Wagner singer, has sung quite a few roles at Bayreuth (the Wagner capital). Her voice is strong and heroic, but in Brangäne's music in this act, you want the voice to melt rather than slice. Her pseudo aria leading into the long (LONG) love duet is a highlight of the score, and Fujimara didn't have the transcendent, plush ease that it needed.
Georg Zeppenfeld was the star of the show, he sang the role of King Marke, Isolde's husband and Tristan's uncle. Beautiful, warm, rich, noble sound. Supreme communication of the text and the drama. His "how could you betray me" aria was the apex of the performance, it was when things really went into sharp focus. i would LOVE to hear him again, in anything.
Andris Nelsons was the conductor. He emphasized the mercurial, moment-by-moment shifts in the music, rather than the sweep. I'm not sure this is the right choice, or even a valid choice. It's like you're eating a seven-bean salad and you choose to eat each individual bean separately.