Broadway World, Apr. 13, 2018
Wagner: Konzert, New York, Carnegie Hall, 12. April 2018 (Tristan, 2. Akt)
A Tantalizing Taste of Kaufmann's TRISTAN, Nylund's ISOLDE with Boston Symphony under Nelsons at Carnegie
It's hard for opera singers to keep off the radar when they're dipping their
feet into a new role--particularly if the role is Tristan in Wagner's great
opera, or if your name is Jonas Kaufmann.
Yes, the first of the
Boston Symphony's string of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, Act II concerts on their
home turf last week could count as a sort of "out of town tryout" for New
York, with Kaufmann, along with soprano Camilla Nylund's debut as Isolde,
but they were not much more than vestal virgins being sacrificed at the
altar of Opera at Carnegie Hall last night.
It gave us much to look
forward to. To say the least.
Act II of the Wagner opera--in which a
Breton noble, Tristan, brings an Irish princess, Isolde, to be the bride of
his uncle, King Marke of Cornwall, but falls for her in the process--is
often considered the key segment of the opera, with its famed love duet ("O
sink hernieder") for the title characters and monologue of betrayal for King
Marke (though Isolde's Liebestod in Act III isn't exactly chopped liver). It
was written during a "break" in Wagner's work on his Ring Cycle, though only
Wagner could consider five-act opera a way to relax.
For much of the
performance, Kaufmann and Nylund were at different sides of the conductor,
though trading smiles (unclear whether in character or just in support). I
guess it made sense to build the sexual tension this way, until they finally
touch, but considering their newness to the roles, it might have made more
sense to have them side by side.
Nylund gave us a glowing, radiant
Isolde, bursting with lush sound, though she was sometimes still reading the
score when it would have been nicer if she only had eyes for Tristan. At the
start, she was somewhat overpowered by the orchestra, but it took little
time for her to reach a higher level. Occasionally, evening dress, which was
the standard for the concert, can be distracting from the drama on stage;
here, the voice and the look helped form the character that Tristan fell
for. Nylund isn't a regular at the Met and her performance here made me
wonder why we don't see her.
As for Kaufmann, it was good to hear him
in good voice and seem happy to be singing this music. The last time I heard
him at the Met, it was as Parsifal; this, I think, might eventually suit him
even better, with its gorgeous love scene giving him room to flex his acting
muscles as well as his voice in a very masculine way. The baritonal timber
of Kaufmann's voice is always so distinctive in his work and it certainly
fits his characterization of Tristan (at this point, obviously, still a
work-in-progress, though he has no shortage of notes at the high end of the
Together, their voices fit wonderfully, any reluctance to
let loose completely, here and there, likely a product of their inexperience
with the demanding roles rather than a lack of generosity towards one
another. I hope to hear them again a little further down the road as the
roles get under their skin.
I was somewhat distressed to hear the
first scene between Nylund's Isolde and mezzo Mihoko Fujimara's Bragane, her
servant, with Fujimara's voice seeming big but rather unnuanced. This
changed dramatically, however, in her off-stage warnings to the lovers--so
difficult to pull off--that the night was ending (meaning the King was one
his way home); here, she sounded ripe and gorgeous.
As King Marke,
bass Georg Zeppenfeld has some of the most difficult music to pull off, with
the famed monologue that serves as a kind of coitus interruptus to the
lovers' duet. While he fulfilled the aria's dramatic needs, I found him
somewhat less than compelling vocally considering he has broken one of
Wagner's richest melodies to air his rage about the disloyalty of Tristan,
whom he treated like a son.
Rounding out the cast nicely, as
Tristan's servant Kurwenal and frenemy Melot were baritone David Kravitz and
tenor Andrew Rees, creating distinct characterizations from little stage
Other than a few instances where the dynamics level was
somewhat in question, Nelsons and the Boston Symphony provided a glowing,
well-paced account of the score. The audience grew more and more effusive in
its love as the curtain calls went on, armed with dozens of bouquets of
flowers. They knew they'd been present at a very special evening.