Tristan and Isolde

Saturday 3 March 2012 at 4.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121-780 3333

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor
Stephen Gould  Tristan
Lioba Braun  Isolde
Christianne Stotijn  Brangäne
Brett Polegato  Kurwenal
Matthew Best  King Marke
Ben Johnson  Melot / Shepherd
Benedict Nelson  Sailor / Helmsman
Men of the CBSO Chorus  

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (Sung in German with English surtitles) 230′ Listen on Spotify

A wounded knight, a tragic bride, and a love that’s stronger than death. When Richard Wagner premiered Tristan und Isolde in 1865, he changed music forever. You can hearTristan und Isolde as the greatest love story ever told; or you can hear it as an emotional experience so overwhelming that no music will ever sound the same again. But with lifelong Wagnerite Andris Nelsons conducting a superb hand-picked cast, just make sure you hear this extraordinary concert performance.

The approximate running times of Acts 1, 2, and 3 are 80’, 75’, and 75’ respectively. There will be a one-hour interval after Act 1 and a 20 minute interval after Act 2. Please note the change to the previously advertised interval durations, in response to the needs of the artists.

Find out what our musicians love about this music – watch music director Andris Nelsons and CBSO cello section leader Ulrich Heinen discussing Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde.

To listen to some of the music in this concert, and explore the rest of the season, using our Spotify playlists, click here.

This concert is within the CBSO season and also forms part of Symphony Hall’s 21st Anniversary Festival. It may be booked as part of a CBSO or Birmingham International Season concert package.

Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

…     “One of the highlights of Nelsons’ Lohengrin had been Lioba Braun’s Ortrud, and she was the star of this performance too, not in the role of Brangaene, in which first made her name in the 1990s, but as Isolde. Feisty and fierce in the first act, meltingly tender in the second, she sang the final act’s Liebestod with mesmerising, rapt containment.”     …

Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

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…     “And yet these things took on a human glow, thanks to conductor Andris Nelsons’s wonderful pacing of the score. He seized on the drama’s essential conflict of fevered desire and yearning for oblivion, and made it vividly real in musical terms. Flexibility of tempo was the keynote, a quality evident in Nelsons’s masterly shaping of the Prelude. It issued out of nothingness in groping, hesitant notes, and constantly pushed and fell back in speed. Nelsons shrewdly drew back at the climax, opening the way to the drama to come.”     …

Blog review by Intermezzo

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…    ” It’s not exactly news that Andris Nelsons is an exceptional Wagner conductor. Everything comes down to his grasp of detail. Those broad sweeps and surges are built up from finely judged tempos and infinitely graded dynamics. Not a note passed unconsidered; the music was constantly alive. A halting, reticent overture hinted we might be in for a meditative interpretation, but once the story got going, a powerful theatrical pulse started beating. Symphony Hall’s warm acoustic magnified a sumptuous and often thrilling sound, with chorus and sometimes soloists placed above and behind the orchestra to make the most of the hall’s spatial qualities.”     …

Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The orchestra relished the opportunity to reveal what a responsive, flexible, sonorous and delicate opera orchestra it is      […]

[…]     And the singers were uniformly magnificent: Lioba Braun such a warm-voiced Isolde, her Act One Narration well-paced, her Liebestod building to a cathartic climax, and with such vivid body-language; Stephen Gould’s well-supported tones much less barking than some other heldentenors, and so sweetly nuanced; Matthew Best’s King Marke sorrowingly authoritative; Christianne Stotjin a Brangaene of genuine personality, her watch-tower warnings shimmering with moonlit mystery: Brett Polegato conveying all of Kurwenal’s bluff decency.”     …

Review by Fiona Maddocks, The Observer:

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…     “a concert performance of Tristan und Isolde, Nelsons’s first. Yet again this young Latvian proved himself among the most exciting and exploratory Wagnerians alive. Yes, that good. He takes immense risks, sometimes slowing the tempo to a near standstill then accelerating with a surge of alert, manic urgency. He taxes his players to the limits of breath or bow control, demanding extremes of volume or, far harder, near silence.

The CBSO, who could surely play the Prelude to Tristan in their sleep but never have the chance to play the entire score, responded with lustrous virtuosity, with special praise to the bass clarinet, cor anglais, trombones and harp. Many of the singers were new to their roles, including Lioba Braun (Ortrud in the CBSO and Nelsons’s 2010 Lohengrin), a mezzo who sounded pale in soprano high notes but who compensated with the intelligence of her reading.”     …    


Review by Rian Evans, ClassicalSource:

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…     “Lioba Braun by contrast was most musical, portraying an Isolde who was totally credible. Spirited and gutsy in the first Act, the body language conveying a great deal without any resort to histrionics, her voice carried warmth and humanity to embody Isolde’s healing gift. In Act Two, the effects of the love-potion were manifest in the sound: Braun produced the most meltingly beautiful tone in the middle of range – a reminder that it was the mezzo role of Brangäne that Braun sang very successfully in the 1990s – but she negotiated the upper range with impunity, only occasionally harsh at the top under duress.      […]

[…] Nelsons’s control was as dynamic as ever: the veiled colours with which he painted the tone, the clarity of details, the force with which the great climaxes were built, albeit of necessity unfulfilled, all demonstrated the a sure touch. Ralph van Daal’s cor anglais solos deserves special mention, always well-focused, and particularly beautifully when playing off-stage in Act Three. In the ‘Liebestod’ Braun realised all that is sublime and transcendent in the score, still sounding remarkably fresh and poised. Her ability to shape the phrasing ensured an expressive immediacy both engaging and moving. It set the seal on a memorable evening.”

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.”