Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

(UK Premiere of Production with Visuals by Bill Viola)

Birmingham International Concert Season 2010/11

Thu 23 Sep 5:30pm at Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen conductor
Gary Lehman Tristan
Violeta Urmana Isolde
Anne Sofie von Otter Brangäne
Matthew Best* King Marke
Jukka Rasilainen Kurwenal
Stephen Gadd Melot
Joshua Ellicott* Shepherd/Sailor
Darren Jeffery Helmsman
Philharmonia Voices
Bill Viola visual artist
Peter Sellars artistic collaborator

*Please note the change of cast from that originally advertised.

Wagner Tristan und Isolde 255’

There will be two 30 minute intervals and the concert will end at approximately 10.30pm.
Please note that due to video scenes with nudity, this performance is not recommended for under-14s.

Tristan und Isolde co-producers: Philharmonia Orchestra, Konzerthaus Dortmund and Lucerne Festival
In association with: Southbank Centre London and Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Also performed in: KKL, Lucerne (10 September), Konzerthaus, Dortmund (17 September) and Southbank Centre, London (26 September)

‘…The overall impact is shattering. A great occasion, no question.’ The Guardian
‘It could well be a very long time before something this great comes our way again.’ Los Angeles Times
‘One of the greatest experiences of my artistic life’ Esa-Pekka Salonen

This performance is, quite simply, an unmissable event that is one of the highlights of the UK cultural calendar: a partnership of three of the greatest artists of the present time – conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, artistic collaborator Peter Sellars and film artist Bill Viola. Set against the stunning backdrop of Viola’s film projections, this UK premiere promises to bring a new intensity to Wagner’s hymn to love and death.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:
“Wagner’s tale of forbidden love was inspired by Arthurian legend. The composer himself said that the story is ’one of endless yearning, longing, the bliss and wretchedness of love…one sole redemption – death, finality, a sleep without awakening.’”

Click here to view a lecture by Bill Viola on Tristan und Isolde.

Watch a short film about the production, including exclusive behind the scenes footage.

Review by Ivan Hewitt, Telegraph:


“If any opera aspires towards a purely abstract “theatre of the mind” it must surely be Wagner’s Tristan. This UK premiere of a collaboration between film-maker Bill Viola, director Peter Sellars and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen gets close to that ideal state, immersing us in a dream-like experience.

On the platform was the Philharmonia Orchestra, sounding almost uncannily brilliant and warm, and on absolutely top form.  […]

…All this might have been thought-provoking but chilling, had it not been for the passion and grandeur of the performance. Gary Lehman was a truly heroic Tristan, especially at the moment when he tears off his bandages in the ecstatic expectation of seeing Isolde. Violeta Urmana had the power to soar over the Philharmonia, and the range of tone to be stinging and proud in the first act and rapturously tender in the second. Anne Sofie von Otter I’ve never associated with Wagner, but she made a thrilling Brangane.”  …..

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:


…..”Salonen’s conducting was exceptional, not for its sense of line or febrile intensity, but for calm, almost nonchalant authority and musical clarity, combined with wonderfully sculpted playing from the Philharmonia. Gary Lehman and Violeta Urmana were not the most vocally alluring Tristan and Isolde, but in two taxing roles they were unfailingly secure and tirelessly confident. Anne Sofie von Otter contributed a elegant, calm Brangäne, Jukka Rasilainen a sturdy, forthright Kurwenal, and Matthew Best a noble and eloquent King Marke, his second-act monologue arguably the emotional fulcrum of the whole performance.”

Review by Andrew Clark, Financial Times:


…”The Birmingham performance had rare potency, thanks to the hall’s acoustical properties, Salonen’s clear-sighted vision and a cast that was able to focus on musical values. In the title roles, Gary Lehman and Violeta Urmana sang with the utmost refinement and conviction, while Anne Sofie von Otter made a regal Brangäne. 4 star rating”   Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.

Review by Lynne Walker, The Independent:


…”Once over the hurdle of what to focus on – the montage of imagery, the surtitles (situated impossibly high in the third act), the magnificent singers positioned around the hall, the doughty instrumentalists placed centre-stage – what really gripped one’s attention was the ebb and flow of Salonen’s conducting and the insightfulness of the orchestral playing. In the acclaimed acoustic of Symphony Hall, the surround-sound effect – enhancing lusty choral-singing and insightful orchestral playing – represented an electrifying aspect of an unforgettable evening.”    Copyright The Independent 2010

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:


…”and where Esa-Pekka Salonen shaped, balanced and guided his tremendous orchestra with all the sense of pace, direction and transparency he had unobtrusively summoned all evening.

We were left with a powerful stage-picture, too: Violeta Urmana’s Isolde subsiding with all the control and dignity of her entire performance, Gary Lehman’s Tristan lying dead at last after tribulations so powerfully expressed, and Matthew Best’s sorrowing, compassionate King Marke sadly bestowing one last blessing on these two people he had loved most in all the world.”