Review: A brilliant and beautiful production fit for Wagner

Clive Peacock reviews Tristan and Isolde at Longborough Festival Opera in Moreton-in-Marsh

Lee Bisset (Isolde) and Peter Wedd (Tristan). Picture: Matthew Williams-Ellis
Lee Bisset (Isolde) and Peter Wedd (Tristan). Picture: Matthew Williams-Ellis

It is hard to identify a finer expression of the most intense human emotion than Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Often referred to as the Romeo and Juliet of music, the opera is both the poetry and the tragedy of love, with the music a stupendous appeal to the emotional side of man’s nature.

Seldom, if ever, has a Longborough audience been treated to such an excess of passion. The display of love between Peter Wedd (Tristan) and Lee Bisset (Isolde) presents an unforgettable preoccupation with yearning. This year’s revival of the 2015 production is more assured, more powerful, and played more enthusiastically by the largest ‘band’ of the season. No doubt, the players are now feeling loved - a reflection of the worthiness of the newly installed heating in the pit; something they deserve on a cold, wet opening night.

Wagner’s Tristan exhibits a complete vindication of his theories on motifs having connection with meaning; he lets us see the birth of the melodies with our own eyes. The varying emotions of the lovers grow from the simple phrase which opens the prelude.

Longborough revivals take on board feedback. Thankfully, the 2015 dancing apparitions are gone, so too the on-stage clarinettist; Kimie Nakano’s set designs are delightfully simple and unobtrusive and Ben Ormerod’s lighting plots are full of merging tints and detailed focus, memorably the spotlight on the lover’s hands as they collapse to the floor as their passion increases. All this expertise is pulled together most effectively by Carmen Jakobi.

Opera North’s 2016 production of the Ring confirmed Lee Bisset’s standing as an international Wagnerian star. Her long-awaited return to Longborough in this revival is a sensational moment in the venue’s short history. She sings with great conviction, her power can now fill the largest of venues and her vigorous, erotic cavorting with Wedd exhibited the irresistible power of love in a way not often seen on an opera stage. Full marks! Wedd’s dramatic contributions both physical and vocally add weight to the view that Wagner’s Tristan is the most human of all of the composer’s works.

This production will receive heap upon heap of praise. Many in the audience needed the first interval to consider carefully just how brilliantly and movingly Act 1 had been sung, how perfect the staging and how well the 70 plus in the pit responded to the never failing inspiration of Anthony Negus. Harriet Williams, beautifully attired, excelled as Brangäne with her precise warnings to Isolde; Stephen Rooke as Melot and Stuart Pendred as Kuwenal both sang well and Thomas Payne’s work with the Act 1 chorus is rewarded.

What a revival; another excellent Longborough production and a fine tribute to the stupendous musical genius which is Wagner.