Tristan und Isolde

Tristan: H. Siukola
König Marke: D.L. Williams
Isolde: K. Huffstodt
Kurvenal: K. Skram
Melot: S. Kale
Brangäne: P. Spence
Conductor: Dietfried Bernet
Director: Giancarlo Cobelli

Genova, Teatro Carlo Felice

For many years it was said that a main barrier to performing Wagner operas in Italy was the limited ability of Italian orchestras to deal effectively with his complex scores. Playing beautifully and offering many thrilling moments throughout the evening, the Carlo Felice orchestra under Dietfried Bernet proved that this myth should be completely dispelled by now. To the potential complaint that the Maestro Bernet frequently covered the singers one must counter that no one goes to hear Wagner performed as a chamber work. Apart from intermediate and ending climaxes, the orchestral scoring in fact favors the text. Since no one in the cast was even close to having adequate volume, at least there were the surtitles to enable the capacity audience to follow the story line.

In a novel move, Giancarlo Cobelli generally followed Wagner's staging recommendations, making for plausible interactions among the characters. Tristan places his cloak over Isolde's shoulders to cover her negligee upon the entrance of King Marke's party in Act II, and attendants really dress Isolde (in a long iridescent blue-green cape) to prepare for the landing of the ship at the end of Act I. Contemporary taste for realism rather than a desire to shock was probably behind the direct portrayal of lovemaking during Brangäne's warnings sung from offstage and far from the hand holding that marked Victorian-era editions.

Maurizio Balò set the first act deep in the hull of the ship carrying Isolde to Cornwall; each subsequent scene had fewer charcoal-toned rough wood sections until there was but a small playing area and low wall left for Tristan's long Act III monologues. A curtain with wave patterns introduced each scene. An annoying gap of several feet between a wide frame and the set to enable three mimes to quickly enter the scene meant that only those most centrally seated could view the entire scene. Were it not for this defect (that would be greatly magnified in traditional theaters with seating in side boxes), this effective production could be widely seen. Costumes by Mr. Balò and Valeria Comandini included one suit of armor that apparently was divided between Tristan, with leg and knee protectors, and his companion/protector Kurvenal, with arm shields and pants decorated with bulky horizontal rows of silvery cord to resemble mail. A helmeted Brangäne was dressed in gray, while Isolde was attired in white. Improbably for a mere hunting party, Marke's retainers were menacingly helmeted and armed; they brought a plethora of gray falcons with them.

Acceptable if dull as Tristan in Bologna two seasons ago, Heikki Siukola now verges on the unlistenable as he consistently sang under pitch in his upper range, mainly due to his underdeveloped head voice. No emotions registered on his impassive face while playing Wagner's passionate lover. As Isolde, Karen Huffstodt's flowing reddish-blonde tresses and creamy complexion made her visually believable, but unfortunately she has nothing even close to the kind of voice required. She was also off pitch, but less often than her unanticipated paramour. Her concept of acting is one more related to that found in spoken theater, where arm movements independent of body motion are generally acceptable. For once Brangäne (Patricia Spence) did not seem like she had something up her sleeve. Knut Skram and Stuart Kale were entirely too light-voiced as Kurvenal and Melot respectively. Only Daniel Lewis Williams as King Marke rarely strayed beyond his vocal means.

In the lobby there was an interesting exhibit of Maria Callas memorabilia, from stage jewelry for the legendary Mexico City Aida to vintage photos in addition to costumes, dresses and posters.

David Lipfert

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