Tristan und Isolde: Grange Park Opera: The Reviews

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 6 June 2011 | 7:11:00 pm

Wouldn't life be so much easier if we all thought the same? If we all saw, heard, perceived and processed things in the same way? I am always amazed to find people who believe that this is the case. Alas, as I know you are aware good reader, this is not so. If you should find anyone who does suffer this affliction - and cannot be persuaded otherwise - one could convince them to spend many years at undergraduate study alone. Suggest any of the following academic areas (or a combination thereof): Neurophysiology, Behavioral psychology, Cognitive psychology, (or more likely combine these two as Cognitive-behaviorism), Social Psychology, Psychoanalytical psychology, Functionalism (perhaps), Structuralism (maybe) or go-for-broke with Phenomenology.

Alternatively, and with a lot less time and expense, one could simply select something that has been reviewed (movie, concert, CD, play or as in this case opera) by a number of different reviewers and read their conclusions and thoughts. It's a game I love to play. Try it.

As I have said before, reviews often tell you more about the reviewer than the thing being reviewed. And with that in mind, I present a summery of the reviews of Grange Park Opera's first Tristan. Alas, due to work commitments, I was unable to attend first night but will be popping down later this month. I shall place my own set of perceptions for your considerations then. But I will say one thing, before leaving you in the capable hands of the professional reviewers: there is enough praise and intrigue here to ensure that I do attend


Staging.

Some reviewers loved all of David Fielding's unusual staging (see a video preview here) some where not to keen. However, even those that disliked his concept in the first act had, by  the third, fallen for it completely. Well, all, at first glance, but Andrew Clarke at the FT, who one feels wasn't keen:

"David Fielding’s modern-dress staging is not one of his best: like Fuchs’s Flute, it amounts to a decoration of the text rather than an interpretation. The first act unfolds in the cabin of what could be a navy frigate, the second in a double bedroom blossoming into a forest glade, the third in a derelict seaside building".
Oh dear. But wait a minute? What's this hidden as the last line of his review?
"But Fielding comes good at the Liebestod, matching Wagner’s poetic vision of romantic union in death."
High praise indeed! The little tinker! And he nearly had me fooled.

At first read, the Telegraph seems equally dismissive: "David Fielding has domesticated Wagner’s most intensely romantic tragedy, yet made it strangely unfamiliar, too. His production at times verges on the unintentionally farcical." starts Rupert Christiansen. However, he then goes on, "But through its often strikingly beautiful imagery, manifested in wonderful sets designed by Fielding, it also develops considerable poetic resonance. But then, off he goes again seeming to contradict himself, "We could be in a Preston Sturges movie with Isolde played by Claudette Colbert. So far, so glib – the stuff of just another smart-alec, deconstructive updating." (Personally, I would take being compared to a Preston Sturges movie as a compliment but what would I know). But wait. Don't return those tickets just yet. This is all a ruse. It's the first act he doesn't like:
"But during the love duet, as walls melt and a dream world replaces reality, the staging becomes more subtle. Act Three is visually very powerful: Tristan is stranded with Kurwenal in a derelict house by a deserted seashore, haunted by the ghosts of his past – and with Marke’s arrival proving truly catastrophic, the lovers’ death-defying karma comes to seem profoundly psychotic."
Phew! Thank goodness for that. The little tinker.He nearly did an Andrew Clarke. Perhaps they got together at the bar after the opera and developed - in true Baldrick style - "a cunning plan" to play a little joke on us?

Over at the London Evening Standard that old Wagnerian Barry Millington explains that Fielding relocates each act to three distinct locals, all indoors: on board ship, a hotel and a boat yard. Thus it is, "...one way of scaling down this monumental masterpiece for modest resources: without in any way compromising its metaphysical superstructure, Fielding finds parallels between unfolding events and our own preoccupations." Sounds good. And this means?
The lovers' assignation in a hotel room highlights the deception involved and allows for a telling image after they are discovered in flagrante when Tristan, Isolde and the betrayed husband, King Mark, perch side by side on the end of the bed.

.... Even more powerful is his staging of the imagined childhood of Tristan, as relived in his Act 3 hallucination: the child himself appears, as well as the father and mother he lost..
He liked the end too.

Over at The Stage, Edward Bhesania, seemed to approve of everything, espcially the second act:

"David Fielding’s production for Grange Park Opera serves the latter idea to striking effect in the second act where, during the couple’s passionate tryst, the rather shabby paint-on panelling opens up to reveal a moonlit forest, a potent symbol of angst-ridden love. Here, Tristan (Richard Berkeley-Steele) and Isolde (Alwyn Mellor) declare their devotion to the night, a force which, like the love between them, is all-consuming."

Tristan und Isolde?

And what of our leads: Alwyn Mellor and Richard Berkeley-Steele?

The Stage is dismissive over-all: "Mellor’s violence and frenzy can be compelling but her voice soon becomes forced in the higher reaches, and Berkeley-Steele, by turns stoical and fevered, begins to sound tired by Act III." And: "A more persuasive central couple is needed, though, to lift this into a truly arousing production."

Oh dear. But wait. Over at the Telegraph Rupert Christiansen finds things very different:
"Alwyn Mellor and Richard Berkeley-Steele, in the title roles, possess dramatic voices that they were not afraid to unleash where appropriate. But the proximity of stage to audience did encourage a more nuanced style than we are accustomed to in Wagner, and both singers sang with exemplary diction, betokening an uncommon understanding of the text and a desire to communicate it intelligently and musically"
While Barry Millington said:
"The quality of singing is also high, with Richard Berkeley-Steele and Alwyn Mellor strongly cast as the lovers"
The Orchestra:

"The conductor Stephen Barlow struggled to draw tonal depth out of a small and not notably accomplished orchestra, but they eventually built up an impressive head of dramatic momentum" says the Telegraph, while Millington maintains: "Though its execution is not exactly unblemished, the English Chamber Orchestra under Stephen Barlow stays the course and delivers the climactic moments with frightening intensity." But last word goes to the FT, with the extraordinary, if it were only partly true, observation:
"...in this they were encouraged at every step by the conductor Stephen Barlow, who in his mid-50s is emerging as a treasure of the English opera scene. His is a light-footed, lyrical reading that knows exactly where to place the weight of the music. I cannot remember when I last heard Tristan paced so naturally, the threads of each act drawn into a slow-burn, overwhelming crescendo."
And finally, the rest of the cast:
"Stephen Gadd’s Kurwenal ... Clive Bayley’s Marke .... both, like Sara Fulgoni’s wacky Brangaene, decently sung". 
The quality of singing is also high, with Richard Berkeley-Steele and Alwyn Mellor strongly cast as the lovers and Stephen Gadd and Sara Fulgoni as their respective retainers Kurwenal and Brangäne.
Of special note must be the praise for Stephen Gadd's Kurwenal and Clive Bayley’s King Mark:
"The most impressive vocal performance comes from bass Clive Bayley’s King Mark - transcending his cloth-cap and jeans with a magisterially cavernous tone and cleanly sculpted delivery of the text, as well as touchingly conveying the tragedy of his battle to comprehend Tristan’s mysteriously uncharacteristic betrayal of him."
"Stephen Gadd proved outstanding as Kurwenal – why isn’t this fine baritone a regular at ENO?"

To read each review in its entirety

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/58033fec-8f89-11e0-954d-00144feab49a.html#axzz1OVcL5YXo
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/opera/8559018/Tristan-Und-Isolde-Grange-Park-review.html
http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/music/review-23956711-tristan-und-isolde-with-a-no-frills-twist.do
http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/32421/tristan-and-isolde:

NB: Oops! Where did that extra I come from in Tristan?  Motto?  Never type a blog on a mobile phone