Christopher Walker reviews summer opera Tristan & Isolde

Get out your linens and pack a picnic.

The summer opera festivals are here, and none more enticing than Grange Park.

Just beyond the M25, it’s a real summer treat for opera lovers.

The highlight of this year’s season is a new production of Tristan & Isolde directed by Charles Edwards.

He also did the sets which lean heavily on designs contemporary to Wagner.

With strong touches of the painted chambers of mad King Ludwig at Neuschwanstein castle.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

The contrast to contemporary German opera sets is very refreshing.

One Tristan I saw at Bayreuth had a completely empty stage with a single neon light that went along the bottom, then up the side, then back again.

It was excruciating.

These sets exude what Germans call gemütlichkeit, which translates roughly as cosy comfort.

Think chaise-longues.

At one point the maid helps herself to a piece of simnel cake on the sideboard and I rather suspect it was real.

Otherwise the highlight of this production is Rachel Nicholls as Isolde. One of the best I’ve seen – both in voice and stage presence.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

The plot concerns her marriage to old King Marke of Cornwall, which is disrupted when under the influence of witch-potion she falls for the hero Tristan.

Isolde’s preference for older men is confirmed by Gwyn Hughes Jones as Tristan (no toy boy he), who wraps his tongue around the German with Welsh lyricism.

Matthew Rose, ten years his junior, plays Tristan’s stepfather King Marke.

David Stout and Mark Le Brocq are both excellent as Tristan’s men, while Christine Rice gives good voice to Isolde’s maid Brangane.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Less successful is the requirement of a builder’s ladder in ACT III for the performers to enter and exit from an open window.

Poor Brangane looked like she wished she’d had less simnel cake.

The music is of course sublimely beautiful, and given the speed at which Stephen Barlow conducted the orchestra we had plenty of time to enjoy it.

The overture lasted until Christmas.

A definite must for Wagnerians, and students of Victorian interiors.

A glorious summer’s evening for everyone else.


Photo credit: Marc Brenner

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