|Zürich Opera House Last Sunday Evening|
I was amazed by Claus Guth’s staging. Act One, for instance, is supposed to take place aboard a ship on which Tristan (Stig Anderson) is bringing Isolde (Barbera Schneider-Hofstetter) from Ireland to Cornwall, where she will marry King Marke (at least that’s the plan – love gets in the way, naturally). But instead of a ship, the opera opens in what is clearly a large bedroom in a great neo-classical villa. At one point the action moves to a terrace filled with plants, definitely not a ship. It was only during the second act, when the neo-classical interior architecture continued, that the penny dropped. Actually, I can’t take the credit – it was Esther who leaned over and whispered into my ear, “It’s supposed to be the Villa Wesendonck”. Of course – why didn’t I think of that? So the staging represented, not so much the love story between Tristan and Isolde, but that of Wagner himself and his muse, Mathilde Wesendonck. The location had been moved from a ship to the place where Wagner had written the opera, the mansion of his lover and muse, right here in Zürich, the Villa Wesendonck (today’s Rietberg Museum). This was a stroke of genius.
|The birthplace of Tristan and Isolde: Villa Wesendonck|
Another intriguing aspect of this staging was the role of Brangaene (played by Michelle Breedt), Isolde’s maidservant. The two were visual doubles of each other, wearing the same costumes and the same hairstyles and, uncannily, even sounding a little like each other. It seems that Brangaene was meant to represent Isolde’s conscience, or more precisely, her rational self. Thank goodness for the drama of opera; Isolde ignored her reasonable advice, and threw herself into illegitimate love instead.
Looking old and frail, conductor Bernard Haitink invested the entire evening with terror and sadness, euphoria and contemplation through his convincing performance. The orchestra was outstanding, though perhaps too loud here and there as the singers were drowned out.
|Isolde discovers near dead Tristan in the Villa Wesendonck|
This was an original interpretation of one of the world’s greatest ever operas and again I was struck by the Buddhist metaphysics that form the core of the entire enterprise. If you want to know more about the Buddhist aspect of this work, or wish to read about the personal background to the work’s creation, read my earlier posting Wagner and Buddha: Tristan and Isolde and if you want to take a tour of Wagner's see check out my A Stroll Through Wagner's Zurich.
|The Very Clever Esther|