Tristan und Isolde – Handlung in three Acts to a libretto by the composer, after the verse romance Tristan by Gottfried von Straßburg [Act II; concert performance; sung in German with English supertitles]
Isolde – Christine Goerke
Tristan – Stephen Gould
Brangäne – Ekaterina Gubanova
König Marke – Günther Groissböck
Melot – Neal Cooper
Kurwenal – Hunter Enoch
National Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley
Reviewed: 17 November, 2019
Venue: David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City
As the ill-fated lovers, soprano Christine Goerke and tenor Stephen Gould make a splendid pair. Goerke’s credentials as a Wagnerian soprano are highlighted by her appearance as Brunnhilde in The Met Opera’s complete Ring Cycle. She has a forceful, ringing high range that becomes slightly shrill at times but is consistently strong and resilient. At a lower range, however, her voice weakens and can give way under the flood of sound emitted by the orchestra at full volume. But she is a singer who combines a high level of musicality with a demonstrative dramatic delivery. Her well-conceived balance between tenderness and overwhelming passion during the love duet was a tour de force.
Gould’s enduring recognition as a major Wagnerian Heldentenor is evidenced by his frequent appearances at Bayreuth’s Wagner Festival. His stentorian voice is a perfect match for Goerke’s extraordinary power. Although his enormous vocal line rose above the orchestra, he did little with it to generate different shades of coloration that could have made his characterization of Tristan more interesting and evocative.
Ekaterina Gubanova, one of the finest mezzo-sopranos of the last generation, added triumphant performances as Brangäne to the vast repertory of opera roles that she has sung in major opera houses the world over. Her portrayal of Isolde’s faithful companion combined dutiful fervor with deeply felt concern for the dangerous course that Isolde has chosen in agreeing to meet Tristan in an illicit triste. Of the other members of the cast, Günther Groissböck, as King Mark, was most impressive. He used his strong, cavernous bass voice to full advantage in creating a multidimensional characterization of King Mark, always regal yet tormented by his friend Tristan’s shocking betrayal. His long monologue toward the end of Act II was deeply moving. Neal Cooper as Melot, and Hunter Enoch as Kurwenal — who appear briefly at the end of Act II after the lovers are discovered – contributed splendidly to the success of this concert performance.
Gianandrea Noseda’s reading was essentially faithful to the score and generated much energy and dramatic tension, suffused with moments of explosive force. Noseda imbued both the Liebesnacht and the Peace of Love passages with a gently caressing quality that bathed the singers in the sublime oblivion of all-consuming love. Then he ever so subtly increased the tension until it reached a climactic breaking point, aborted by the sudden appearance of King Mark and Melot. It was a thrilling cataclysm that reached the heights of passion.
The National Symphony Orchestra played extremely well under Noseda’s direction. It did not produce an especially Wagnerian sound, generally avoiding a dark, murky tonal hue that could enhance the textual emphasis on night as the refuge of the doomed lovers, it delivered a brighter timbre that seemed to connote day in Wagner’s dualism.