Mass live, Apr 6, 2018
|By Ken Ross
Wagner: Konzert, Boston, 5. April 2018 (Tristan, 2. Akt)
Review: BSO, opera singers outstanding in all-Wagner program
What's the recipe for a memorable classical music concert?
Boston's beautiful Symphony Hall.
Add the outstanding Boston
Mix in a few world-class opera singers.
Set the program to all Wagner music and sit back and enjoy for the next two
and a half hours.
If that sounds like all the ingredients for an
outstanding concert, you would have felt right at home at Thursday's BSO
performance of Siegfried's "Idyll" and Act II of "Tristan and Isolde."
And don't worry. If you weren't at Thursday's concert, you can catch the
same, stellar program Saturday night at Boston's Symphony Hall.
BSO's music director, Andris Nelsons, conducted Thursday night's program.
Nelsons has had a lifelong love affair with Wagner's music, he explained
during an interview last year with me before the BSO's performance of "Das
Rheingold" at Tanglewood.
"I simply love Wagner's music," the Latvian
conductor said last year. "That actually started very early. He was the
first composer I was exposed very much to because my parents introduced me
to Wagner's music very early. I was only five years old when they took me to
'Tannhauser' to the opera in Riga."
Nelsons' passion for Wagner's
music was clearly evident throughout Thursday's BSO performance. During the
concert, Nelsons often seemed to lose himself completely in Wagner's
The first piece on the program, Siegfried's "Idyll,"
was originally written as a standalone piece and a birthday present for
Wagner's second wife, Cosima. Wagner then later incorporated parts of this
gorgeous piece of orchestral music into his opera, "Siegfried," the third
opera of his four-part "Ring" cycle.
Siegfried's "Idyll" remains an
intimate, melodic piece of music. On Thursday, the BSO brought a sensitive,
warm touch to Wagner's lush, tender music. Especially during the quieter
moments, Nelsons gently guided the orchestra through these idyllic musical
After a brief intermission, the BSO and the stellar
ensemble of opera singers assembled on stage performed a haunting rendition
of Act II of "Tristan and Isolde" featuring soprano Camilla Nylund as Isolde
and tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Tristan.
One of the more dramatic acts in
Wagner's repertoire - and that's saying a lot! - Act II features the doomed
lovers finally succumbing to their uncontrollable passion for each other,
despite constant warning signs that this is a horrible idea. Then again,
that could be the plot for many of the most popular, classic operas.
On Thursday, the BSO brought Wagner's intense music vividly to life. The
same was true for many of the opera soloists on stage. However, I was
slightly disappointed at times with Nylund and Kaufmann in the lead roles.
Sometimes, I found myself straining to hear their voices, especially near
the beginning of Act II. Maybe it was because the orchestra was right on
stage instead of in an orchestra pit as in most opera houses. But the voices
of these two outstanding soloists often failed to rise above the sound of
Fortunately, Nylund and Kaufmann did seem to
eventually find their stride and appeared more at ease on stage as the
performance progressed. And both sounded outstanding near the finale of Act
Meanwhile, I had absolutely no trouble hearing the two standouts
in Thursday's performance - mezzo soprano Mihoko Fujimura in the role of
Brangane, Isolde's maid, and bass Georg Zeppenfeld in the role of King
Fujimura's rich, powerful voice easily filled the concert hall
and she brought a fiery intensity to her brief but memorable scenes. Then
near the end of Act II, Zeppenfeld stole every scene he was in with his
tender yet potent rendition of the king betrayed by Tristan. Listening to
Zeppenfeld, I had to wipe away a few tears listening to him breathe life
into this haunting role.
Hearing these singers also made me crave
hearing the entire Wagner opera, which remains one of his best more than a
century later. That's often the problem with performances like these
featuring only part of a great opera. Afterwards, I found myself craving to
hear the opera's mesmerizing Act I overture as well as all of Act III.
Fortunately, Nelsons will surely conduct many more Wagner concerts for
many more years to come, including hopefully a complete "Ring" cycle at
Tanglewood, the perfect setting for such a magical masterpiece.