Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Andris Nelsons and his Tristan in Paris

Tristan und Isolde in concert, Théâtre des Champs Élysées (TCE), March 11 2012

Addition to your fave list: Andris Nelsons

Andris Nelsons ..... Conductor

Lioba Braun ..... Isolde
Stephen Gould ..... Tristan
Matthew Best ..... King Marke
Brett Polegato ..... Kurwenal
Christianne Stotijn ..... Brangäne
Ben Johnson ..... Melot
Benedict Nelson ..... seaman

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO)

Yes, after the superb Tristan in Berlin, then a delicate Parsifal at TCE the other day, this evening came like a definite heal to my wounded love for opera -- after numerous catastrophic new productions at the Paris Opera. It's all good!

Andris Nelsons regularly comes to Paris but rarely with his orchestra. It's with his orchestra that you get to seize a measure of his exceptional talent. Not because the other orchestra are not as good, but because this complicity between the conductor and his orchestra is indispensable for the kind of risky score reading proposed by Andris. It's different especially in the way he recomposes the texture of  sounds that are braided into the total that sounds different from what you're used to. Very meticulous about details he manages to give it a personal touch. Even the Mahler Symphonies sounds different and refreshing with Nelsons, but I believe it is in Wagner that his talent found its fertile ground.
OK, his Lohengrin in Bayreuth was very good but I believe not as exceptionally good as is his Tristan. I cannot resist the comparison with Mariss Jansons (beside his "s"-ending name) in conducting gesticulation [except that Andris --like Barenboim-- prefers to sit on high chair and occasionally jumps un his feet to even physically suggest the kick he wants from the orchestra].

Like many British orchestra, CBSO is excellent [paradoxically and based on my experience, of all the big British orchestra the one that is believed to be the best, namely LSO, is the least good to me]. Of course a good part of that praise is due to Nelsons but otherwise they have a perfect balance of what's needed for a confident orchestra: they are not too stiff, very accurate in execution, and display a pleasant complementarity of sounds produced by various parts of the orchestra. I detected only one detail that went wrong during this Tristan, and it came at the beginning of the Act 3 prelude when the cellist ran ahead of Nelsons and had to play twice the same bar. That too was amazing to see as both the cellist and Andris handled it remarkably and masked it handily, that even some Tristan connoisseurs who I discussed after the concert didn't notice anything. To me that tiny error only made the whole performance more humanized.

Usually Tristan is performed progressively -- it grows from Act to Act: the public gets more involved, the singers inhabit more the characters they incarnate, and the orchestra is bringing the growing  romantic fugue. Here it was somewhat different. After 15-20 minutes of Act 1 we could feel Andris went for a winner right from Act 1. He managed to keep the level in Act 2, and eventually higher the bar in Act 3 to make the climax truly astounding. In the end, and after more than 5 and half hours long concert the crowd went wild!

Andris Nelsons and Lioba Braun (after the end of Act 2). Three dresses and beautiful jewelery noted and appreciated!

Lioba Braun was much better than I saw her before. Her voice is maybe not as beautiful as Petra-Maria Schnitzer's (who this year reached the maturity in the role that is very hard to beat by anyone) but Lioba has the vocal authority, she sustains the level of high vocal power throughout the show, and recites/sings the text with great conviction. Totally deserved ovations for her in the end!
Stephen Gould is a true heldentenor and probably the only one of this format today. Like his Tannhäuser --famous for the mind-blowing degree of stamina he invests in singing that role-- his Tristan is stunning for the power he manages to sustain, especially in the last parts. Only in Weimar last year I saw a singer who was able to survive the second part of Act 3 without lowering the volume or showing the audible signs of exhaustion. Steve is able to even gearshift to an extra level as the Act 3 was progressing. Yes, his piani are maybe not pretty, his timbre is not among the best in business, but what a super-heldentenor!

Stephen helden Gould

Other roles were frankly less good. We all know that Christianne Stotijn is a brilliant singer but Wagner is just a format too big for her. She nevertheless had some beautiful moments in Act 2 when she could show her Lieder-singing qualities to make Brangäne sound more touchy. Similar could be said for Brett Polegato, who too made an admirable effort but the size of his voice was simply not for  Kurwenal. The difference is probably exacerbated by the fact that both Lioba Braun and Stephen Gould are exceptional as Wagnerian voices. I liked Ben Johnson (one to watch!) but was bitterly disappointed by King Marke...

Thanks to TCE for this Tristan night and a big bravo to Andris, the cast and to CBSO!

The microphones were all over the stage, but no information about the broadcast was available anywhere. As soon as I find out when and where it will be broadcast I'll post the link here.

This is what Andris Nelsons had to say about this Tristan und Isolde:


  1. What a concert, indeed!

    It's going to be broadcasted on France Musique on June 2d at 7:30PM, and is not going to be available on their website after the broadcast.

  2. Aaah, thanks a bunch! I'll add a note. Cheers

  3. Thanks for your report. I also spent a great evening at TCE last sunday. A few bars after the run ahead from the cellist I also noticed (and Nelsons tried to wake him up)a delay this time from an oboe : maybe a lack of concentration in the beginning of the IIIrd act.