The prowess has finally become true: Richard Wagner´s "Tristan and Isolde" has been premiered at La Plata´s Argentino, the first time that city hears and sees a wagnerian production in German. The only antecedent was a "Lohengrin" in Italian in the old theatre, as far back as 1952. Of course, the vast facilities of the new Argentino were ready for the challenge, although with one limitation: even with recent improvements, the badly designed pit still hold only 85 players, and Wagner sounds best with over a hundred. It is a paradox that the big Argentino´s Orchestra numbers 127, but this total can never be in the pit. Also, the acoustics aren´t particularly good, especially as it affects voice projection.
The last time the City of Buenos Aires heard "Tristan…" was in 2000, and the vocal results were poor as far as the protagonists went. Unfortunately this is also the case for the two pairs of lovers (with one partial exception) heard recently at the Argentino. If the Colón, as a great international theatre, has the obligation to provide the very best in the world, the fees of the top artists are beyond the possibilities of a provincial theatre, as the Argentino is, even with its hugeness (over 2000 capacity). Whether better choices could have been available or not, I´m in no position to answer.
However, the magic of "Tristan und Isolde" still works, even when the full import of the words and the music doesn´t come over. Premiered in 1865 (though finished years earlier) it had a huge impact which kept on growing. As stated in Luciano Marra de la Fuente´s excellent programme notes, the innovations "are the subversion of harmony, melody and rhythm through the use of open and amplified processes…He employs a highly chromatic harmony, with suspensions and unresolved dissonances…creating a sensation of instability, tension and ambiguity, according to the never quenched desire and impossibility of earthly union of the protagonists".
It needs a medieval ambience for its text: a boat sailing through the Sea of Ireland and arriving to the Cornish coast; a woody refuge near King Marke´s castle; and the coastal ruins of Kareol at the Bretagne. Celtic places, a world of magic and filters, the same as King Arthur´s. I am at times saturated by the constant mix of Eros and Thanatos and the recurring exaltation of the Night and demonization of the Day, but the immense conviction and dramatic power of the music carries all before it.
Marcelo Lombardero, the producer (and the current Artistic Director of the Argentino), didn´t improvise: he did "Tristan" twice for Santiago de Chile, and he brought that conception to Prague. With certain changes in respect to Santiago´s production, his use of cunning and beautiful projections allied to some well-designed sceneries by Diego Siliano gave us a "Tristan" worth looking at, devoid of the ridiculous "concepts" that nowadays so often ruin opera (also at the Argentino). In fact, if I have a criticism it concerns that old error of traditional stagings, the lack of enough interaction between the singers and the singing "to the public" rather than to each other. But his solutions were attractive, especially in crucial points of all three acts, when a small platform in the middle of the stage rose with the lovers, isolating them from the rest of the world, absorbed by the magnitude of their attachment. I liked the costumes of Luciana Gutman with the exception of Tristan´s (whose makeup furthermore was unattractive). The lighting of Horacio Efrón was irregular and sometimes left in the dark important bits of the action.
The Argentino´s Orchestra keeps improving. Even if the first minutes were a bit tentative, they soon found their feet under the concentrated and intelligent impulse of conductor Alejo Pérez, who chose generally fast but coherent tempi and also phrased intelligently and in full collaboration with the singers. I felt his reading more in the Böhm tradition than in Knappertsbusch´s.
Of the Isoldes I preferred the second, Eiko Senda; her unmistakably Oriental appearance (she´s Japanese) isn´t that of an Irish princess, but her vocal resources generally coped with the music and her interpretation became gradually deeper. The first Isolde, Anja Beer, has the right looks, but the voice is strident in the high reaches and poor in resonance and projection in the center and the low range. The Russian Leonid Zakhozhaev has some of the power required; however, he often sounded harsh and unlovely; he sang the last part of his huge Third Act monologue with a naked torso appearing to be tattooed (it was painted), looking like a rocker rather than a Medieval knight. The other Tristan, the American John Pierce, looks the part and has an agreeable timbre, but his musical control was faltering (whole phrases sung under the tone) and the volume certainly didn´t rise to the big moments.
The Brangäne of Adriana Mastrangelo was quite good; she felt the anguish of the character (she changes the filter of death by the one of love) and sang with free high register. Eugenia Fuente lacked that firmness and was rather too bland. I enjoyed the Kurwenal of Fabián Veloz far more than that of Douglas Hahn, and found Hernán Iturralde a notable King Marke, better than Christian Peregrino. The smaller parts were good, except Sergio Spina´s Young sailor.
For Buenos Aires Herald