there was the Wagner. We hadn’t seen Tristan and Isolde before and indeed, are pretty much Wagner novices since our previous exposure was limited to Das Rheingold a couple of summers ago. Though we’d really enjoyed that performance and indeed, looked forward very much to the spectacle and all round experience a night at the opera promised, I was still a little apprehensive. After all, the performance began at 5 pm and there was not only an interval but a meal break too!
We arrived at the Millennium Centre in good time, to hear the preconcert talk and to learn a little bit about what we were going to hear. Simon Rees (the same chap who speaks so eloquently on the WNO website) spoke very well and explained the plot sufficiently that I was confident of knowing I’d be able to follow.
So it was that, fortified by a little sustenance (a few madeleines and a bottle of fizz, enjoyed in the fresh air of a Cardiff Saturday afternoon) we took our seats and settled down for the duration. Except that it wasn’t at all…
The sets were sparse and a little bleak, for sure and the cast of six main characters meant there wasn’t a great chance to be overwhelmed by lavish costumes and larger than life characters. This was Wagner, for sure – there was not much action and the story moves at a glacial pace at times. But the drama was there in spades, the characters well defined and for me, the spare and rather dimly lit setting was perfect. In no time at all, we were breaking for the first interval and off outside again for the next stage of the picnic!
We returned after half an hour to Act Two and a different but similarly constructed set. Having the characters established in our minds now, we were able to sit back a little and not feel as though we had to work so hard at it. I was so enthralled that the end of the act came as rather a surprise!
Off we went again, this time for a rather longer, supper break. Arthur and Barbara had booked us a table for a delicious cold plate of salmon, ham, salads and suchlike and we were getting well into the routine. Well, a little food, a little music, some more food…get the picture?
By the time we’d got to Act 3, we felt that we had a fair bit invested in old Tristan there, as he lay injured and awaiting the arrival of his love from afar. Not the most agile of chaps, I held my breath as he staggered up this slab of a set, realising a little too soon that it had been designed as a kind of platform on which he was going to lay down and die – which sure enough, he did. Fortunately, Isolde had got there just in time and as the tale reached its sorry end, I also realised that the last five hours had been the build up to this, the most magical of finales, the Liebestod.
We were all left somewhat breathless. Though Wagner demands a little more commitment than Puccini or Verdi and certainly doesn’t bring a tear to the eye or a smile to the face so readily either, that’s not to say that the emotions are left unstirred. Far from it – this was truly thrilling and incredibly powerful stuff and I can understand why Wagnerian sopranos are so highly regarded and command such respect. Ann Petersen was magnificent.
I won’t say we left the theatre humming, but felt thrilled and rather drained at the same time. I think that’s what Wagner does…