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Your reaction: Tristan und Isolde

What did you think of Christof Loy's production of Wagner's influential opera?

By Lizzi Easterbrook (Former Content Producer (Learning and Participation))

6 December 2014 at 11.19am | 40 Comments




What did you think of Tristan und Isolde?

The production is a co-production with Houston Grand Opera and is given with generous philanthropic support from Peter and Fiona Espenhahn, Malcolm Herring, Bertrand and Elisabeth Meunier and Lindsay and Sarah Tomlinson.

By Lizzi Easterbrook (Former Content Producer (Learning and Participation))

6 December 2014 at 11.19am

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by Christof Loy, by Richard Wagner, Production, review, Social Media, Tristan und Isolde, twitter, your reaction

This article has 40 comments

  1. John Braine responded on 6 December 2014 at 12:05pm Reply

    Utterly Sublime

  2. Peter Erdos responded on 6 December 2014 at 12:17pm Reply

    Not even the best Isolde in the world can drag me to the worst conceived production of Christof Loy's Tristan. Once seen never forgotten and forgiven.

    • Matthew Taylor responded on 9 December 2014 at 10:19pm

      the performances succeed in transcending the production

    • Martin Sherwood responded on 12 December 2014 at 12:28pm

      I could not agree more. Stemme is glorious but to have to sit through five hours of that tiresome irritating production is just not possible.

  3. r.a. responded on 6 December 2014 at 5:04pm Reply

    Just wanted to echo all the comments about Nina Stemme. I first saw her in the finals of Cardiff Young Singer of the World 20+ years ago singing a very moving 'Donde lieta usci'. The beauty of the voice, its capacity to move, and her very strong stage presence were remarkable even then. It was wonderful to hear her as Isolde last night. Her Liebestod is one of the most memorable/moving pieces of singing I have ever heard at ROH or elsewhere, wonderfully supported by Maestro Pappano and the orchestra.

  4. James Gordon responded on 7 December 2014 at 12:45am Reply

    This Tristan is consistently well sung and played Tristan - no mean achievement! Nina Stemme is outstanding, on a par with the recordings of Nilsson in her prime. Stephen Gould, although less interesting, at least gets through the part with voice intact, which few tenors do. There are no weak links in the supporting cast and the orchestra is on top form. But there were moments when I just wished Pappano would get a move on.

    I regard the production as fundamentally misconceived. For me, the main reHand for doing Tristan in an opera house is to have the orchestra where it should be, in the pit, rather than swamping the voices as it inevitably does from a concert platform. Otherwise I prefer this work in a concert performance. The reason? Simply that, unlike everything else by Wagner, the characters in this piece are not believable people, but mere functions of the music. A production that sets out to humanise them only emphasises this by its inevitable failure. The text, unlike his other libretti, is Schopenhauerian-antiSchopenhauerian psychobabble, escapist nonsense on a par with the worst of his prose writings for turgid opaqueness. Only the music deceives us into taking it seriously. No doubt the fault is mine, but my reaction to the story is somewhere between Hans Sachs's and Donizetti's (enjoyed here the previous night).

    The only character I can imagine existing outside the confines of the piece is the shepherd in Act 3, who is the shepherd boy from Tannhäuser, grown up and thrust out of his Thuringian arcadia into the Waste Land of (in this production) Bismarck's Berlin.

  5. Irene Carrier responded on 7 December 2014 at 8:52am Reply

    I was privileged to see the 2003 production at Glyndebourne with Nina Stemme. For me it was the definitive production of this sublime work: true opera in that it stirred all the senses, wonderfully blending colour, movement and sound. The performance of a lifetime in the production of a lifetime. Eleven years on and Ms Stemme was stunning in voice and interpretation. The psychological tension was profound and well reciprocated by her colleagues and an orchestra in top form. An evening of supremely beautiful music performed by some of the best singers you could gather together. I found Loy's production very thought provoking and with more clarity in interpretative help for the audience than many of the modern stark low-budget set jobs around -especially after 'Idomeneo' last week. What adversely affected the vision for me was the too obviously tacky austerity of the inner world of the emotions that dominated too much of the fore stage, the heavy curtains that frequently obscured too much, and the massive monochrome set that stretched some of the voices by being positioned too far apart or too far from the audience (the helmsman's voice was virtually lost to me, and Sarah Connelly's watchman's song lost some tone and volume on account of her position). Almost too clever by half as far as production goes, but very interesting. I definitely dream in colour rather than monochrome. After a day in the Turner Exhibition, I really wish that JMW Turner had designed the production. However, musically superb. Well done ROH!

  6. John M. responded on 7 December 2014 at 4:06pm Reply

    A deeply satisfying performance on Friday evening; the best thing I have seen so far this season, much of which has been very forgettable.This was the RO at almost its best. Pappano and the orchestra were excellent and the singing was stunning, Stemme particularly so, Gould and Connolly also gave outstanding performances. I was less enthralled by the effortful singing of Tomlinson, for me a bit of a blot on the proceedings ( this will probably bring the wrath of the gods down on me). The staging worked for me this time too, much more insightful than I had remembered it to be, with some tremendous interactions and lighting. More evenings of this calibre, please!

  7. David Etherington responded on 8 December 2014 at 9:32am Reply

    I happen to think that what you actually SEE on an opera stage matters. Even if the singing is as good as people report here ( I agree with them that it was), a set consisting mainly of bare walls and a curtain, with a cast clad mainly in black throughout, I realised that I have attended more interesting concert performances of operas.

  8. Derek Blyth responded on 9 December 2014 at 12:04am Reply

    Nina Stemme, Stephen Gould, Iain Paterson and Sarah Connelly were all on top form and together gave us a near perfect performance on Friday last. The downside was the woefully inadequate John Tomlinson (embarassing to hear a once-great Wagnerian singer perform like this) and the often inconsiderate conducting of Antonio Pappano which sometimes drowned even Nina Stemme. The production is bound to upset some people but I found it enlightening, engaging and, ultimately, exhausting.

  9. Roy Hiscock responded on 9 December 2014 at 10:33am Reply

    Saw this last night (8/12/14): I'll be boring and echo other comments about the performance (particularly of Ms Stemme) which I loved. I was on holiday in Paris last April and saw (or heard) a very fine performance of Tristan in the Peter Sellars/Bill Viola production - it and the Loy productions perform a mathematical impossibility: each is a thousand times worse than the other. Perhaps Prof Hawking could explain. Oh Wieland, where art thou? Anyway, I shall be going to two more performances, when I shall be able to sit back (in the lower slips) and just listen.

  10. Sam responded on 9 December 2014 at 1:33pm Reply

    I attended the premiere, and thought that in general it was well sung. Nina Stemme was excellent; Stephen Gould betetr than good. The only vocal downside was John Tomlinson, who of course was a truly great Wagnerian but I think needs to call it a day now. But another great Wagnerian Graham Clark gave us a wonderful cameo.

    I absolutely cannot comprehend how so many people at the first night are praising the orchestra and Pappano though. The Prelude sounded as if they were sight-reading it - no flow, tentative, poor dynamic contrast, messy entries (will someone please buy Tony a baton for Christmas?). The string playing throughout sounded as if only half of them had bothered to turn up, and the conducting somehow managed to produce almost no tension in a work that relies up on the build up of unresolved tensions. Why have such a massive rallentando before the Isolde's first high C in the duet? Its was like someone gearing up for the end of Di quella pira, rather than maintaining the momentum that needs to sweep us along at that point. I'm afraid I found the whole thing fell rather flat.

    Beforehand I had been listening to the Karl Bohm live recording from Bayreuth, and when we got home my girlfriend put on the Barenboim/Ponnelle performance from Bayreuth - which isn't even the best Barenboim version in my opinion. The interpretations are very different but the difference between them and what I heard on Friday is massive in both cases I think.

  11. Angel C responded on 9 December 2014 at 10:06pm Reply

    I really prefer the Bill Viola's performance, but Stemme was spectacular, brillant, etc. A pleasure for all senses!!! And the ROH, the best place for enjoy it!!!

  12. Matthew Taylor responded on 9 December 2014 at 10:16pm Reply

    The highpoint of thirty-five years of listening to Wagner... I do not expect to ever hear a greater interpretation of Isolde than Nina Stemme's last night.

  13. Tim Walton responded on 10 December 2014 at 9:36pm Reply

    Wonderful singing at my 12 Tristan on stage. Stemme was magnificent

    Dire production though not quite as bad as the previous production at CG.

    What is the matter with these producers. Do they even bother to read the story or do they just do a production as far away as possible from the story just to annoy people.

  14. Stephen Brook responded on 11 December 2014 at 6:13pm Reply

    I was seated on the left side of the house, which means I was unable to see about 40% of the action. Does Loy think everyone sits in the stalls? Ridiculous.

  15. Jane Beckley responded on 11 December 2014 at 6:25pm Reply

    Found the modern dress and the dull setting, plus the fact that the main characters were largely at the side of the stage, spoilt things at first. But once it got underway, this was all forgotten by the power of the music and the singing.All the main singers were excellent, but Nina Stemme was unbelievable! I was moved to tears.

  16. Angela responded on 11 December 2014 at 6:42pm Reply

    I enjoyed the wonderful singing in Tristan, but not the staging - nothing to suggest being on a ship, it was more like a palace! Also why were all the singers lined up with their backs to the wall on the left of the stage, the poor people in the slips on the left couldn't have seen anything!

  17. Peter Johnson responded on 11 December 2014 at 10:32pm Reply

    Magnificent musically, Nina Stemme, Stephen Gould and the rest. The orchestra was wonderful, as an amateur musician myself the control of the crescendo through the prelude was simply astounding. Not mad about the production. Fed up with grey, black and white, although it seems to be an obsession with modern directors. The room behind the curtain was a bit of a nonsense, the characters on the stage sometimes seemed to far apart, and there was sometimes too much empty space. But fortunately the quality of the music- making meant that the production did not get in the way, for which one can be grateful. Overall a wonderful evening.

  18. Elaine Drage responded on 12 December 2014 at 12:49am Reply

    Great singing but DIRE production with set contradicting the words on occasions ( Kurwenal pawing Brangane when she sings about watching alone in the night...). At a loss to know why sailors were dressed in DJs and Tand I had to use school canteen chair and table . Whatever no doubt existential point the producer was trying to make was entirely lost on me.

    And he seemed deliberately to be making it difficult for the singers throughout e.g. Connolly's placing in Act 2 , poor Gould having to sit through the Prelude to Act 3 with a spotlight full on him (no wonder he had to close his eyes) and as for requiring Isolde to start the Liebestod lying awkwardly on her side after lying on bare boards for 10 minutes - well how to make it difficult for the greatest Isolde of our about more understanding of the technical demands singing makes on people and taking them onto account sometimes

  19. Tom B responded on 12 December 2014 at 1:19am Reply

    After a long journey home afterwards, I think I've never experienced any music, play or opera before like the performance tonight on 12th December - my Wagner-fan friend and I were both knocked out by Nina Stemme and the orchestra's effort in the last act - I had tears rolling down my cheeks at the ending. Not often you are moved tears by the beauty of something rather than the sadness. After it finished I fell back into my seat and it turned out both me and my friend were so moved neither of us could recover enough to clap immediately. That opera, with that orchestra, with Nina Stemme's performance, is an amazingly moving experience, on every level. So that's why all the big noise about the arts. Nice work Royal Opera House. Wow.

  20. Richard Regan responded on 12 December 2014 at 11:01am Reply

    I find this staging again unhelpful, even obstructive, to the aesthetic enjoyment and the meaning of the work. Is Loy offering a negative stimulus to our thoughts? The vocal performances were excellent apart from John Tomlinson who should consider... I hope ROH will drop this presentation of a great work.

  21. Juliet Lloyd responded on 12 December 2014 at 3:56pm Reply

    The singing at the rehearsal was excellent and much appreciated but the set and costumes were woeful. Modern dress did not suit the singers - all of whom would would have looked so much better in period costume. Nor did the set add to the production but rather detracted from it.I was not convinced by the love between Tristan and Isolde. Too often it seemed forced.

  22. francois responded on 12 December 2014 at 7:11pm Reply

    Outstanding, moving performance on Thursday night. Wonderful Stemme and Gould, probably the best Isolde and Tristan today. Stemme's Isolde is now entering the legend of the interpretation of Isolde. Fantastic atmosphere from the orchestra (wow that long, long, dense crescendo from Act I to Act III, with that amazing climax on the top notes of Liedestod !) . A performance I will never forget!

  23. Timothy cassel responded on 12 December 2014 at 7:41pm Reply

    Whatan irritating production. Particularly when the singers and orchestra reached musical perfection.
    A completely bare forestage apart from the occasional cheap village hall furniture - with a back stage with a lot of men in evening dress occasionally seen from behind a curtain! This just detracted from the mesmerising music and drama. Modern dress was more than unsuitable. The womens' clothes reminded me of what my mother wore to do the washing up in the ealty '50's. And Brangane and Kurneval having it off during he magical long love duet in Act 2 was an obscenity designed to irritate and upset. Why do audiences and opera houses put up with this pretentious nonsense?
    This is not in any way to denigrate from the wonderful singing and orchestra. Soundwise it was sublime.

  24. Clive Talbot responded on 12 December 2014 at 10:58pm Reply

    Musically wonderful with superb soloists in the principal roles. The orchestra brilliant. However, the production as a whole, and particularly the scenography was disappointing and at best added little to what could have been achieved with a concert performance, at worst ( inconsistency between text and staging, mysterious movements of flats at crucial moments, unfortunate placing of soloists etc.) detracted from it. Nevertheless a wonderful, memorable and moving evening. And Nina Stemmes singing -

  25. Julian Agnew responded on 12 December 2014 at 11:02pm Reply

    Nina Stemme is the greatest Wagnerian soprano of the present generation,the Tristan was good to adequate though obviously tired in the third act, the smaller parts were well sung especially Brangane and the orchestra were in great form as usual in spite of Pappano's strange tempi. I thought that John Tomlinson's quavering singing was intentional to show King Marke as an older man than usual. But that production! No ship,no cliff top and instead what appeared to be glimpses of a Rotary Club dinner in the River Room of the Savoy- if this was meant to be a metaphor for Night and Day it was not the one for me. Two hideous chairs and a table borrowed from the local primary school were used by the singers intermittently and inexplicably,perhaps when they felt tired.The Shepherd Boy appeared to be moonlighting as an apprentice undertaker. This production does little or nothing to add to Wagner's words and music and a great great deal to distract and annoy. The sequence of similar productions of the Ring, Eugene Onegin, Maria Stuarda and Idomeneo make me ask who likes them-it seems neither the singers nor the conductors nor the audience. If so why does the management and the trustees continue to serve them up to captive audiences ?

  26. Robert Hitchings responded on 12 December 2014 at 11:39pm Reply

    Performance 11th December. Magnificent.The accolades heaped upon Stemme and Gould speak for themselves. Antonio Pappano and the ROH Orchestra deserve yet again all superlatives. I feel privileged to have been present at this performance.

  27. William Falk responded on 13 December 2014 at 1:30pm Reply

    I have been attending Wagner performances for over 50 years now, and I can say quite categorically that this is the most futile production I have ever seen, and that includes the ROH's previous Tristan production with the separate blue and red boxes for Tristan and Isolde.
    Just who do these trumped up directors think they are that they can better Wagner's genius. Also how does such a gifted musician we are privileged to have as music director allow such a travesty to be presented on stage. I feel immensely sorry for the fine artists who sing so wonderfully and gave fantastic performances throughout. Please scrap this production immediately and either resurrect the wonderful Peter Hall production from the Colin Davis era or put on a new one which follows the composer's directions. The same comments could apply to last year's Parsifal but at least this was not quite so offensive.

  28. Juliet Chaplin responded on 14 December 2014 at 9:25pm Reply

    I saw the dress rehearsal and the performance on 11 Dec; for the latter I was in a restricted view seat, mercifully. Wonderful musically, but the production.........fussy, inappropriate, and in Act 3 particularly perverse. No ship, no flowery bank, and in Act 3 a shepherd in a suit and tie coming on stage while his alter ego is still playing his pipe.....Stemme wonderful, Gould very impressive, Connolly and Paterson likewise. I could hardly hear the Sailor, and Connolly was not very audible when she was offstage. ROH has so many AWFUL stagings, especially of Wagner, but musically the standard is very high, thank heaven. I first saw Tristan in 1962 with Nilsson and Windgassen in the name parts; the current performances are as good as any I have seen over the decades.

  29. Rob Kelsey responded on 15 December 2014 at 3:14pm Reply

    I think I agree with most of the comments about the production, although it gave me new insights into the opera (especially after reading the programme notes!). But who was the shepherd meant to be, and who was that other man who wandered onto the stage a couple of times? By the way, I don't think it's necessary or helpful to have blood on the floor in a stylised production.

    I also agree with the comments about John Tomlinson's voice, although his stage presence was such that I thought he was in danger of stealing the scene in Act II.

    Having read all the other comments, I'm hesitant to say this, but I thought Nina Stemme was under-powered in the final Transfiguration. Does anyone else agree with me?

    But overall I thought it was great! Thank you ROH (and my brother, who paid for the tickets!).

  30. Len` Taylor responded on 15 December 2014 at 4:16pm Reply

    Performance on 14th December was as great as any Tristan I have seen including the Bayreuth performances with Nilsson and Windgassen. Stemma's Isolde was vocally and dramatically emotionally shattering . One of the greatest assumptions.

  31. Peter Hadden responded on 15 December 2014 at 4:18pm Reply

    Truly wonderful performance.
    Nina Stemme sensational.
    Special praise for the orchestra.
    Please give the great JT a rest.

  32. girardasse responded on 15 December 2014 at 4:23pm Reply

    Amazing performance yesterday!!! Stemme and Gould ARE Tristan and Isolde. I was in Berlin Deutsche in May, 18th to see them but unfortunately she had a cold and you could hear it. Yesterday I thought that they were both terrific, much praise goes to Nina Stemme of course but Stephen Gould is as brilliant. No wonder he's singing Tristan everywhere these days (Bayreuth 2015). Sarah Connelly and Ian Paterson were excellent Brangane and Kurwenal. Also, I found Pappano particularly inspired yesterday, he got the best of ROH orchestra (as good as Barenboim with the Deustche in May and the Staats in October). I heard/read some critics on John Tomlinson, indeed his best days are gone, he was quavering sometime but he was not bad. As for the production, I certainly did not get everything but there were some good ideas, like Isolde starting the Liebestod lying on the floor. At least, it was minimalist and not an eyesore (sober costumes). Anyway, musically this was an amazing afternoon/evening! Thank you.

  33. Amazing, one of the great ROH occasions, cast couldn't be bettered. Never heard such vocally strong Tristan. Stemme was exceptional.
    I enjoyed the minimal production more on a second viewing, but can we have a new production next time please!

    When is the fine Tannhauser coming back?
    With Gerhaher please!

  34. Mathias responded on 17 December 2014 at 4:11pm Reply

    This production is musically as beautiful as it gets. However, if you have ever had the privilege of listening to Barenboim conducting Tristan (with Waltraud Meier as Isolde, who unfortunately is now beyond her prime), you know how much more drama can happen in this opera (for example at the end of act 1).

  35. Kate Heath responded on 19 December 2014 at 4:22pm Reply

    Wonderfully dramatic - loved the minimalist production, fantastic orchestra and Stemme was sublime, but I just can't believe that nobody else finds Gould totally not creditable as a sexually attractive hero. His inability to move naturally or to act completely hampered the otherwise brilliant staging. When women are fair game for the press if they are even marginally plump, where is the honesty about Gould's poor physical shape for such a demanding and central role - not a convincing Tristan on stage.
    Everybody else gave a class act, even if Tomlinson's wobble is a little over -pronounced, at least he held the stage!

  36. David edwards responded on 21 December 2014 at 6:37pm Reply

    Contrary to the fuss about the staging, I think it's quite brilliant: intelligent and helpful. The space between the characters is very poignant. We don't need ships and cliffs and castles!

  37. Richard Carter responded on 24 December 2014 at 7:44pm Reply

    This production was one of the worst I've seen (not quite as bad as the horror perpetrated in recent years at Bayreuth and thankfully now dumped. Only one word of it: absolutely dreadful. OK, that's two words, and two words more than this abysmal effort deserved, and I wasted good money on it. But do listen to the broadcast on 29 December: all the pleasure and none of the pain!

  38. Jonathan Sydenham responded on 21 January 2015 at 12:05pm Reply

    Wonderful performance musically although I don't understand how anyone can mention Stemme and Nilsson in the same breath. However, I was blown away by the production on its first night a few years ago when I sat midway back in the stalls slightly to the right when I could follow the incredible acting performance by all the singers, particularly Stemme. This time I chose the amphi which is just too far away to catch her incredible command of detail. I still appreciated the philosophical aspects of Loy's approach though. In fact much had been honed still further. A truly great evening.

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