Washington National Opera production of Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde may just be the opera where the morbid absurd meets with some of the most beautiful music.
Tristan and Isolde is set at a time when Ireland and Cornwall are warring against each other. Against this backdrop, Tristan, a knight in the service of King Marke of Cornwall, attempts to mediate a truce between Ireland and Cornwall by convincing Isolde, an Irish princess, to marry King Marke. On the ship to Cornwall, Isolde, who loves Tristan and is angered by his treatment of her, asks her servant Brangäne to prepare a death potion as a drink of atonement for Tristan. Brangäne returns with the drink of atonement, but has secretly put a love potion in it instead. Tristan and Isolde both drink from the cup, and thinking that they are close to death confess their true, heartfelt feelings for one another. In Cornwall, the lovers must keep their illicit and torrid romance a secret, obtaining help from Brangäne and two of Tristan's comrades-in-arms, Kurwenal and Melot. Tragically, their secret affair meets the unfeeling light of day and many lives are lost in the ensuing chaos.
The three act opera, with intermissions, runs for about four and a half hours, an endurance test for all involved, including the audience. However, the lengthy opera is wholly captivating and alluring because of the music. The pacing of the opera is superb, and the abundant and gorgeous display of emotions emanating from the stage and orchestra pit serves to enrapture and intrigue the audience for the entire performance.
Alwyn Mellor is wonderful in her alluring portrayal of Isolde considering that she had to step in for Deborah Voigt at the last minute. As she explores and exposes her love for Tristan, her voice is so captivating that the mere presence of her commanding instrument reaches deep into our souls to speak to our conscious and subconscious.
Tenors and the entire male chorus all do good jobs rounding out the aural landscape of Richard Wagner’s daunting and intriguing score. They bring entrancing and magnetic life to the role they play and support the leading international cast well.
Not having a video of the actual performance I have included one with Ms.Voigt and Placido Domingo. Close your eyes and let the power of the music transport you to this mythical time. Make sure you listen until the end for the crescendo is what brings chills through your soul.
Carmen Roman writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.