“Tristan und Isolde” with Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros in the title roles runs until July 31 in the Bavarian State Opera.

© W. Hoesl

By Jörn Florian Fuchs

Munich – Before Erl, Bregenz, Salzburg, Ischl, the festival summer begins, the opera festival kicked off in Munich. One gives Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”. The first thing to report is a role debut. Anja Harteros sings the female title character for the first time and shows a quick-tempered, intense Isolde who is convincing in every nuance. There is no match for what is offered in terms of dramaturgy of design and richness of expression. Jonas Kaufmann also dared to try Tristan for the first time at the age of 52. Technically everything works flawlessly, Kaufmann succeeds particularly well in the third act with its never-ending vocal variations of suffering, in the first two acts his pertinent, palatable timbre creeps in from time to time. And then there are two sensations. One is called Okka von der Damerau and has been reliably singing mostly medium parts in Munich for years. Your Brangäne now becomes a triumph. A vocal artist who often outshines everyone else, who shines with a velvety as well as powerfully rich timbre. Scenically she is also a kind of captain who takes care of love (or death?) Potions and sometimes treats people in a nurse’s dress, sometimes does diva-like bella figura in evening gowns.

Many are cared for and treated that evening, although it does not help most of them. Director Krzysztof Warlikowski stages a tired, badly self-referential round of unhappy ghosts with a remarkable reluctance to use the subject. We are in a salon (equipment: Małgorzata Szczes’niak), there is war somewhere, somehow we experience a family constellation. Tristan and Isolde not only feast on a drink with an unclear effect, they also sit down syringes, but above all they often sit next to each other at a large distance and sing about their feelings. There are also a couple of (gigantic) videos where, for example, they are lying in bed suddenly flooded with water. There are also bald dolls, sometimes alive, sometimes just dead accessories. At the beginning of the second act it becomes too colorful or too boring for Isolde and she plays with the light switch … One thing is clear: in the end both are dead – suicide.

The greatest antithesis to the uninspired scene is offered by Kirill Petrenko, who is no longer the head of music in Munich and who is returning once for this series of performances. It is not entirely wrong to assume (e) Petrenko a tendency towards the very structured and controlled, which was particularly noticeable in the Italian subject. Petrenko’s “Tristan”, on the other hand, sounds loud, often harsh and wild, insanely impulsive and at times even, you can hear and be amazed, not exactly singer-friendly. No, here as a singer you really have to work and fight to keep up with the brilliant tempo and decibel orgies from the ditch!

The audience can cool down and find new inspiration during the breaks, for example in the newly designed basement bar, which exudes a bit of brothel atmosphere with its red plush, as well as the video screens and works of art distributed throughout the National Theater, which are the author, filmmaker and opera aficionado Alexander Kluge created especially for the festival that runs until the end of July. An installation by Jonathan Meese or a few video snippets of “Rheingold” have a much more sensual effect than Warlikowski’s dreary direction.

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