Operawire, APRIL 14, 2018
Wagner: Konzert, New York, Carnegie Hall, 12. April 2018 (Tristan, 2. Akt)
Tristan und Isolde: Jonas Kaufmann Reminds Us of His Colorful
& Nuanced Wagner Singing In Triumphant Debut
Anticipation. Expectancy. The pulse of Act two of “Tristan und Isolde” in
concert performance at Carnegie Hall.
Under the baton of Andris
Nelsons, Ray and Maria Stata Music Director of the Boston Symphony,
everything was set in motion – the lover galloping to his beloved, heralded
by the offstage brass . The woman waiting with rapid heart-beat for his
arrival. The warning of the lady-in-waiting of spies on them. The arrival of
the king and the discovery of betrayal. All these beats coalesce in dramatic
intensity as Nelsons led the international cast with lavish finesse.
Even in this Concert Performance, with only the single act and the addition
of subtitles, we were spell-bound by the expressive and sonorous
performance. Famed German tenor Jonas Kaufmann, singing his first Tristan,
and well-known Wagnerian Finnish soprano, Camilla Nyland, singing Isolde,
brought the roles to life, sans costume, lights, set design. Even the
subtlest look brought the drama right into the audience. The English
subtitles above the stage and the scores used by the leading singers did not
diminish the impact one bit.
Of course, we cannot forget when we step
into Act two that the lovers have been anticipating their meeting for a long
time. Act one details the story, and by the time the off-stage horns signal
the arrival of the hero racing to his beloved, we more than feel their
Kaufmann entered with a powerful “Isolde, Geliebte,”
in the stance of Otello or Radames, and Nyland responded in kind, “Tristan,
Geliebter,” the two twinning words as they do in the subsequent dialogue
delighting in finding each other finally in the flesh – a doubling that goes
on musically throughout the first sequence and builds as the subsequent
dialogues unfold. Wagner aimed to show the interchange of selves these
lovers evince throughout this Act and, of course, later on as they move into
their final union, beyond reason, beyond day. The music, the text, and their
interchanges emphasize the shifting back and forth of their union as it
builds to the climax. And Nelsons brought the music forth as if it were
following their feelings rather than the other way around. It was thrilling.
Colorful Wagnerian Singing
In the Boston debut last week, the
singers initially strained a bit to sing over the hefty sound, which, over
the evening, was tempered. But in Carnegie Hall, the crisp sound of Nelsons’
musicians and the singers came out in powerful unison and reached the back
of the auditorium with ease. Voices soared when needed and offered
pianissimi when required. The two leads enthralled with each other and we
were in thrall to them, as they traced their individual loves in the others.
There was round and full-bodied exultation and subtle tender celebration,
especially by Kaufmann who is known for his vocal palette of colors. One
almost forgets, especially with his expansive Italian and French opera
repertoire, how expressive and sublime a Wagnerian singer he is. The power
of Tristan’s love was communicated phrase by phrase and we relished how he
embodied a human lover as well as an archetypal hero. His baritonal tenor
rings and alternately glows and caresses each word of love, emphasizing step
by step tenderness while communicating vigor. Kaufmann captured, by careful
recitation of syllable and endings of words, the building of tone so that
without trying, we were under his spell.
sings in equal measure, though thinner. Her timing and articulation were
fastidious and she groomed her passion with aptness. More than the Boston
performance, she stepped further forward in her role, present and personable
to Kaufmann’s beckoning words. She turned to him, she smiled back at him.
Their chemistry was palpable.
The subsequent sequences further
elucidated Wagner’s lavish articulation of the score – but instead of the
opening volume as initial coming together, Wagner shows them tunneling into
more intimate feelings. Articulated ecstasy, Kaufmann’s “O sink herneider…”
was an exquisite caress of tone, matching deeper and deeper feeling. Their
sounds rose as if out of beyond, probably as Wagner wanted.
Nelsons kept wooing his orchestra, the horns, the
sweeping violins, like a great bird, hovering, coaxing, ever at the service
of the music, which brought forth more and more the vortex of love, the life
force of the whole performance. He aligned the musicians with word and
story, song and substance with extraordinary tempi and volume. One bar
melting into another almost effortlessly.
Brangaene, sung mightily by
Japanese mezzo, Mihoko Fujimura, brought us into the handmaid’s wish to
protect Isolde and the lover. Her rich mezzo swelled as she aimed to protect
them, especially in the off-stage warning.
Marke, sung by German bass
Georg Zeppenfeld, was haunting, thoughtful, and mournful, yet generous in
sound as he ached with Tristan’s betrayal.
Melot, sung by Welsh
tenor, Andrew Rees, came through with an appropriate sting. While he doesn’t
sing much, his words are the lynchpin of the remaining action. Tristan
himself is stung by the turnaround of Melot’s prior loyalty, while Kurwenal,
sung by baritone David Kravitz evinced his own loyalty in his warning and
the grief to come in Act three.
The Act two
finale brought a dark and almost violent shift. Here is the culmination;
here is where night meets light and comes down. Kaufmann’s Tristan shifted
even further. Clear in his own guilt and his own “explanation” as being
beyond reason, the tone of voice and the steadiness of posture, were full of
conviction. Here was the descent of night into day, of passion into the
light of restitution of its values. By the end of the Act, passion is not
spent but channeled into another realm which he sustains with aplomb: his
fate is inevitable, responsibility taken, and expectancy descending now into
the demise to come. The ardent love dream, while not defiled, is defined, no
longer boundless and infinite. We were stuck as Nelsons rang the sound like
a resonant piercing of the whole. The death, the lovers proclaimed earlier,
will turn from dream and aspiration into reality. Only, under Nelsons’ wand
at Carnegie last night, did we not have it to endure.
Act three is
yet to come, hopefully soon with Kaufmann in the lead role.