Tristan und Isolde-Royal Opera House-Nina Stemme-Ben Heppner-05.10.2009

......Come with me. This is a special evening. My Wagner debut. Have I showed you before the entrance of the ROH? This is the one from Covent Garden Market, where the box office and the shop are.

......If you would agree to pay between 130 and 200 pounds (depending on the production) for a ticket, you could stay in the first rows. And turning your head this is what you'd see.

Everything is prepared
One page of the Tristan and Isolde score. Remember that I promissed to show you the difference between Wagner score and Bizet score? This almost black page belongs to Wagner. This one is from Carmen.

Conductor's score and baton
This is the "set". That black think in the background is a curtain. It moves from left to right very often. Behind it there are more chairs and tables.

Tristan - Ben Heppner
Isolde - Nina Stemme
Kurwenal - Michael Volle
Brangäne - Sophie Koch
Melot - Richard Berkeley Steele
Sailor - Ji-Min Park
Steersman - Dawid Kimberg§
Shepherd - Ryland Davies
Conductor - Antonio Pappano
Director - Christof Loy
Designs - Johannes Leiacker
Lighting Designer - Olaf Winter
......This was my first Wagner experienced live, from beginning to end. And I was glad there was the chance to see it in London, with some of the best singers, Nina Stemme and Ben Heppner. And it was the 227th performance on the stage of the Royal Opera House.
......This Wagnerian masterpiece "Tristan und Isolde" lasts for 5 hours, with two 30 minute intervals. There are 3 acts, each of them of 80 minutes. It’s long and there are a lot of words involved. I think you have to be prepared for Wagner. It’s not easy to understand the music. It's completely different of what I’ve heard before. It’s beautiful but it never stops. It’s like the sea with waves. Always moving. And Antonio Pappano was magnificent. He managed to get the best of that orchestra, as he always does. Music has to support the voices. And the composer sometimes forgot that there’s somebody singing onstage. The music is normally very loud but the conductor reached that degree of loudness so the voices could be perfectly heard.
......Speaking of voices, I still don’t understand how they can sing so much, how they can remember all the lyrics, they don’t have to get tired. Isolde is on stage 2 whole acts, then takes a break in the 3rd act but comes back on stage and ends the opera with one beautiful aria. Nina Stemme has a great voice. It’s fresh, clear, and powerful. Acting is great too. But for Wagner I guess the sets and acting are not as important as the voice and the music. A singer starts to sing Wagner after having performed a certain number of years and he/she is aware that the voice might suffer in time. The effort is double, the passages are very long, sometimes 10-12 minutes or maybe more. But everything is beautiful as soon as you get the meaning.
......Ben Heppner managed to finish the opera in a good way, despite his voice cracking 3 times. First time it was in the 2nd act. What a singer could think of in that precise moment knowing that it was totally wrong but there are still two more acts to sing? It must be awful. Nina Stemme took over and he had time to concentrate. The other two times were in act 3. But here he was alone on stage. After about 10 minutes of singing, the voice dropped. So sorry. These things happen sometimes. Only that after the first cracking, for the entire length of the opera I was afraid this might happen again. And it did. It creates a sort of discomfort. But I consider these just accidents. What he did on stage is amazing. What they all did was great.
......I won’t comment on sets. It was a modern production, as you can see in the pictures. Chairs, tables and a curtain. The director (Christof Loy) uses these a lot (see the Lucrezia Borgia he did for Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich). The magic comes from the lightning. There’s always this night and day thing all over the opera. They meet in secret and the darkness protects them, then he waits the dawn for her ship to come, and so on. The significance of the lyrics is more profound and can’t get it only by reading the subtitles, which are a shortened version of what they’re saying.
Did I like it? Yes, a lot, because it’s different.
Would I go again? Definitely.
Curtain call

Michael Volle

John Tomlinson

Sophie Koch
Ben Heppner
And the great Nina Stemme

Antonio Pappano

Free Blog Counter
Poker Blog


  1. Irina, I love your blog more and more!
    Tristan, my most favorite opera!
    Thank you so much for the review, I already read that the staging was booed, but in my opinion staging is in Tristan not really important, as the singers have to concentrate on the music, it´s very physical demanding, they can´t move much anyway.

    I like it when you say it´s not easy to unterstand the music. Well, you don´t need to unterstand, you need to feel the vibrations in the bottom of your soul when you listen to this. It´s not music, it´s composed emotions. Well, yes, it´s loud, but in a giant, huge and powerful way, I often had the feeling I could breath the music.

    Plus it´s worth reading the lyrics for themselves, it´s full of philosophy, Wagner was not only inspired by his own lovestory to Mathilde Wesendonck but also by Schopenhauer and Buddhism.

    It´s not shameful when the singer of Tristan get´s in trouble, that´s the most demanding role for a tenor (not Otello), and I´ve seen Tristans almost literally dying during the last act. Tristan needs a lot of physical reserves for this last act.

    Now this was your first Wagner. Usually one starts with Holländer, Lohengrin or Meistersinger (in my case, when I was 10 years old).Wow, Tristan is very demanding, you can only top this with Parsifal. I feel happy that you´ve fallen in love with this music.

    (just looked at you blog to read you second review on Carmen, what I haven´t done by now)

  2. Nice review and great pictures as always! (seriously, is there some special setting you use on your camera?!)

    So Tristan und Isolde was your first Wagner opera? It was my first too (in Amsterdam), Der Fliegende Holländer will probably be my second later on in the season and I'm curious whether I'll warm to Wagner more. I mean, I love the music (and especially the recurrent orchestral theme in T&I is heartwrenchingly beautiful), but sometimes I just feel like I'm missing out on that extra spark die-hard Wagner fans seem to find in his operas.

    The tenor who sung Tristan in the production I attended was vocally exhausted during the final act as well (he didn't crack, but he was pretty close to it). Sometimes I think Wagner didn't really take the singers' capacities into account when composing his operas. ;)

  3. Ladies, thanks for your comments.

    Regarding the camera... this will remain a mistery :)