Review: Tristan and Isolde at the ENO


Tristan and Isolde
English National Opera

Heldentenor Stuart Skelton’s voice is an instrument of immense power and beauty and he has given a world class Tristan in English National Opera’s new Tristan and Isolde, directed by Daniel Kramer with sets by Anish Kapoor. His singing in the love duet of the second act instantiated as much of the good, the true and the beautiful as is humanly possible.

Heidi Melton’s debut Isolde revealed a voice also of considerable power that was at its best in the first and second act love duets with Skelton: it was not only the doomed lovers’ hearts that raced towards the climax of the first act which was genuinely thrilling and no less so than their duet of the second act.

Unfortunately, the demands of the role appeared to tire Melton’s voice over the course of the drama with the result that the Liebestod of the third act quite conspicuously lacked the power so evident earlier and proved something of an anticlimax.

Matthew Rose’s rendition of King’s Mark’s meditation on Tristan’s betrayal was immensely lyrical and moving and Craig Colclough sang Kurwenal never less than magnificently. The huge ovation that both Rose and Colclough received was no surprise and entirely deserved. Karen Cargill’s Brangane was well done and all the more so since she, as did Colclough, had to portray her character while dressed, inexplicably, in seemingly comic eighteenth century servants’ dress, Kurwenal being positively foppish in the first act and, even more inexplicably, buffoonish in the last.

Someone other than these fine singer-actors must take responsibility for those (and other) errors of the production. Anish Kapoor’s sets made an impact: through its division of the stage into three high-walled compartments, the audience was, in the first act, made to feel the claustrophobia of Isolde’s crossing of the Irish Sea (and yet sight lines were not, apparently, affected). The set for the second, however, was a Kapoor sculpture and wondrous to behold: a suspended, rotating and dissected lunar globe which was transformed by lighting effects from rock crystal, to forest, to cave and to underwater. It is hard to describe. The English translation by Andrew Porter, in rhyming couplets for the most part, added something to the performance and showcased not so much the translator’s craft as his art.

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