Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LPO/Jurowski @ Royal Festival Hall, London

13 December 2008

Any doubts that this was merely a rehearsal for next year’s run at Glyndebourne were swiftly banished from one’s thoughts.

This concert performance of Act II of Tristan und Isolde had the kind of white hot intensity that one only usually encounters in the theatre.

Many symphony orchestras find Wagner’s idiom difficult to grasp as his music is not an integral part of their repertoire, so concert performances of his operas often lack the essential element of Wagnerian gravitas. However this is a not a criticism that can be levelled at the door of the LPO as their annual residency in the pit at Glyndebourne guarantees that they are perfectly au fait with the considerable demands that the composer requires of them. Many, if not all, of the players will have taken in part in last year’s revival of the opera which probably accounts for such a well-disciplined, scrupulously played and at times incandescent performance of Act II of Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Festival Hall last Saturday.

There are pluses and minuses in having the orchestra in full view of the audience behind the singers on the concert platform, the greatest plus being that the listener is more aware of the colouring, orchestration and intricate detail that can sometimes get lost in the opera house. The downside is that more demands are made of the singers as riding the orchestral sound of a Wagnerian orchestra can’t be easy when it’s placed behind you but as conductor Vladimir Jurowski was always attentive of his singers’ needs, moments of imbalance were few and far between.

Indeed Jurowski’s conducting, next to the superb orchestral playing, was the evening’s single most outstanding virtue. His Wagner is muscular, never bombastic, fleet of foot, and big-boned when required yet there’s a transparency to the texture of sound that few Wagner conductors are able to achieve. And as mentioned earlier he never let the orchestra drown the singers which is no mean feat, but there again it’s hard to imagine a better cast than the one he had assembled here.

The main attraction was Anja Kampe’s role debut as Isolde, a part she will sing for the first time on stage at Glyndebourne next year. This young German soprano has garnered positive notices in Europe and the States, especially for her performances as Leonore, Sieglinde and Senta (in which she will make her eagerly-anticipated Royal Opera debut in February). On the evidence of this performance she has the makings of a fine Isolde. There is a touch of mettle in the voice which she used to thrilling effect in her exchanges with Brangaene at the start, yet this melted into a wonderfully controlled limpid tone in the love duet. For a first stab at one of the most arduous roles in the soprano repertoire this was mightily impressive.

Likewise Sarah Connolly, in her first Wagner role, gave notice that she now has the necessary vocal heft to take on roles more associated with dramatic mezzos. As Brangaene she provided the perfect foil for Kampe, her warnings from the tower had an ethereal quality that was pure unadulterated aural balm.

Robert Dean Smith was a capable Tristan, whilst Laszlo Polgar, despite singing through a cold, was a grave, sonorous King Marke. All in all a thrilling evening, and one which whets the appetite for the opera in its entirety at Glyndebourne next year.

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