Michael Tanner

The ultimate challenge

Tristan und Isolde is one of the greatest challenges that an opera house can take on, in some ways the greatest of all.

Tristan und Isolde is one of the greatest challenges that an opera house can take on, in some ways the greatest of all. So it is wonderful to be able to report that at Grange Park it has been mounted with a large degree of success, and that most of the things that are wrong with it could easily be righted, though they won’t be. The most remarkable thing about it is the level of singing, almost uniformly high, and certainly with no weak link. Isolde is Alwyn Mellor, Longborough’s Brünnhilde, and also scheduled to sing that role for Opera North and for Seattle. Besides her impressive voice, she has plenty of temperament, and encompasses the whole of Isolde’s emotional range, from the fury and frustration and resulting irony of Act I, to the excited and expectant woman in love of Act II, to the at first distraught and finally transfigured heroine of Act III. The only things that worried me about her singing were a shortness of breath on what should have been sustained high notes, and a tendency to squeeze into notes. How long it is, though, since I saw so complete a realisation of this role, and one which will certainly grow much further.

The Tristan is the veteran Richard Berkeley-Steele, now in his late fifties, but neither looking nor sounding it. He is a rather wooden actor, and did little more than stand around in Act I, apart from an unfortunate attack of what appeared to be vomiting brought on by the love potion, and sit around in Act III. But his voice is pleasant, and at times heroic; and in the most moving passage of all, perhaps, Tristan’s invitation to Isolde to follow him to the ‘Wunderreich der Nacht’ near the end of Act II, he was profound and inward.

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