OPERA NEWS - Tristan und Isolde
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In Review > International

Tristan und Isolde

Munich Opera Festival | Bayerische Staatsoper

In Review Munich Tristan hdl 715
Robert Dean Smith, René Pape, Michelle Breedt and Waltraud Meier in Bavarian State Opera performances of Tristan und Isolde that marked Meier's last performances of the title heroine
© Wilfried Hösl 2015
In Review Munich Tristan lg 715
Smith and Meier
© Wilfried Hösl 2015

TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO, at the 1993 Bayreuth Festival, Waltraud Meier sang her first Isolde. The role had been suggested to her several years earlier by Daniel Barenboim, who realized that her high-lying mezzo soprano, combined with her enormous stage presence as well as her depth of understanding, might make her Isolde very special. Her success in the role immediately placed her in worldwide demand. Seventeen years ago, she sang the premiere of Peter Konwitschny’s production in Munich, and it was in this production, on the stage of the Nationaltheater—the same house in which the world premiere of the opera took place on June 10, 150 years ago—that Waltraud Meier decided to say farewell to the role on July 12. 

That she cannot sing the role with the same abandon as in the past is a given. That said, her Isolde is still as complete a portrayal, as riveting an experience, as intense a dramatic and vocal interpretation as one might ever experience. Every gesture was irrevocably aligned with both text and music. She not only paid attention to her own part but was totally caught up in everything going on in and around her. Her irony in Act I was sublime, her pain so intense that it hurt, her love so unequivocal that not even the impending tragedy could dampen it, her Liebestod lifted one out of this world and into another. Just to be clear, her singing, aside from a few effortful top notes, was beyond reproach.

That the performance became more than a one-woman show was due to a strong cast and masterful conducting. René Pape sang a heartbreakingly splendid King Marke, Robert Dean Smith—though not a heldentenor—was a sturdy, commendable Tristan, Alan Held a heroic Kurwenal and Michelle Breedt a highly sympathetic Brangäne. Philippe Jordan conducted masterfully coaxing both the lyric and the dramatic out of a magnificently disposed orchestra.

The first curtain call saw Meier, together with her Tristan in front of the red curtain. It also saw the audience, as one, arise and reward the singers with an ovation which, one felt, could hardly have been topped. When Waltraud Meier came out for her solo bow, the house simply went wild. A good opera public doesn't forget. The ovations—and they went on and on—were an outpouring of thanks to Meier for decades of excellence. —Jeffrey A. Leipsic 

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