Tristan und Isolde
Richard Wagner, Music and Libretto
at the Latchis Theater, Brattleboro, Vermont
TUNDI Festival Orchestra
TUNDI Festival Chorus
Hugh Keelan, Conductor
Stage Direction and Design, TUNDI Design Team
Isolde – Jenna Rae
Brangäne – Roseanne Ackerley
Kurwenal – Cailin Marcel Manson
Tristan – Alan Schneider
Melot – James Anderson
King Marke – Charles Martin
A Shepherd – Stanley Wilson
A Steersman – Kevin Courtemanche
This is, I think, the third alert of this sort I have sent out in my thirteen years of arts journalism. I have just come from one of the most extraordinary evenings I have experienced in many years of opera, and there is only one more chance to attend it, Sunday morning, August 26th, at 10 am at the Latchis Theater, 48 Main Street in Brattleboro, Vermont. Even if you have something important scheduled, change it and be there!
I only learned about this two days ago: a production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in Brattleboro, Vermont! Surely a historical first. Brattleboro and I go back many years, although not as long as Tristan by a decade. I had no idea that I would ever attend a Wagner music drama there or what to expect, but I instinctively changed my plans and requested tickets. Whether it would be good or bad, it would be an experience worth remembering…or forgetting.
As it turned out, TUNDI’s Tristan was not only worth remembering, but unforgettable! (I’ll let you decode TUNDI for yourselves.) Not only could the singers actually sing the roles—a dicey prospect in great houses from the Met to Bayreuth—the conductor, Hugh Keelan, was an absolute master of the score, the orchestra played their hearts out, and with impressive skill, and the dramatic values, both simple and sophisticated, hit home pretty much at every moment and in Wagner’s flowing dramatic arc.
A proper review will follow later, but in the interests of sharing this wonderful performance, I’ll be very brief. What you will experience is Hugh Keelan’s deeply felt and understood reading of the score, passionately played by musicians—some of whom travelled long distances to participate—, magnificent singing and intelligent, moving acting from artists who are truly right for their parts, and appropriately—medievally—costumed, brilliantly strategized staging, making full use of the remarkable venue, the Latchis Theater, which, with its Hellenizing stuccos and murals, is a resonant American reflection of the urklassisch Königliches Hof- und National Theater in Munich, where Tristan und Isolde was premiered in 1865. In the main auditorium, which was designed for cinema and live performances in the 1930s, balustraded stairs continue up from the stage to the balcony. The Design Team made free use of these and the two aisles for entrances and exits, as well as an actual extension of the proscenium stage. (Actually it was more of a shallow apron, since the orchestra occupied the space behind the proscenium, separated by a scrim, on which supertitles and digitally animated visuals were projected.) In this way, the chorus of sailors in Act I surrounded the audience. Looking ahead at the action on the poop, it felt as if we were actually on Tristan’s ship! And this worked musically and acoustically into the bargain. In Act III, when King Marke’s ship arrives the interlopers, Kurwenal, and the lovers interact from the sides and front, a most impressive device. Above all, in the intimacy of 750-seat theater, we could see the singers as real people portraying Wagner’s recreation of medieval characters as real and familiar, if larger than life.
This may well be the first immersive Tristan in history, and, rather than it being the last, I hope TUNDI’s brilliant work with be a model for the future in opera production. Above all, this extraordinarily gifted team told Wagner’s profound, deeply moving story in the most powerful and direct way, and I know for a fact that people who came to the show not knowing what it was were thrilled with it. And there were some very fulfilled Wagner connoisseurs as well.
TUNDI should—must—carry on, and they do have a Ring in mind, beginning next year!