Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV recreated at Versailles

Les Funérailles Royales de Louis XIV, with Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon now on DVD/Blu -ray from Harmonia Mundi. This captures the historic performance at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles in November 2015, on the 300th anniversary of the King's death.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Songs for Nancy: Bampton Classical Opera celebrate legendary soprano, Nancy Storace

Bampton Classical Opera’s 25th anniversary season opens with a concert on 7th March at St John’s Smith Square to celebrate the legendary soprano Nancy Storace.

Tenebræ Responsories
recording by Stile Antico

Tomas Luis de Victoria’s Tenebrae Responsories are designed to occupy the final three days of Holy Week, and contemplate the themes of loss, betrayal and death that dominate the Easter week. As such, the Responsories demand a sense of darkness, reflection and depth that this new recording by Stile Antico - at least partially - captures.



10 Jul 2017

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

Tristan und Isolde

A review by David Pinedo

Above: Tristan and Isolde at Longborough [All photos by Matthew WIlliams-Ellis]


Wagner described Tristan und Isolde as a dramatic action rather than an opera. An actor’s director, Carmen Jakobi seemed to have this in mind. With a mostly empty stage and a few geometrical building blocks around which the singers acted, Ms Jakobi emphasized theatrical drama through the aesthetic of Japanese Noh Theater. Set and designer Kimie Nakano’s creations reminded me of Samurai fashion. Her sharp designs suited the elegance unfolding on stage. Ben Ormerod’s exquisite colours in light and shadow highlighted the moonstruck melodrama.

The singers in their acting elevated the experience to the sublime.

During the First Act, Ms. Bisset displayed Isolde’s venomous hatred towards Tristan through fierce acting. Harriet Williams sang Brangäne with a concerned gravitas. As Isolde’s handmaiden and confident, she counterbalanced Ms. Bisset’s raving passions. She even relayed some slightly Sapphic suggestions to the erotic overtones of Wagner’s music.

After Brangäne switched Isolde’s intended poison for Tristan with a love potion, the lovers collapsed on stage, while reaching in a desperate grasp longing for each other. Wedd and Bisset’s chemistry heightened the love between Tristan and Isolde with profound effects.

Harriet Williams (Brangane), Lee Bisset (Isolde) - LFO Tristan und Isolde 2017 cr Matthew Williams-Ellis (9).jpgLee Bisset as Isolde and Harriet Williams as Brangäne

In Act II, the two stars continued to fire up the drama. In their love duet, these two expressive powerhouses erotically charged their chemistry with rapturous kissing and lustful groping. I haven’t seen anything so explicit, yet elegant and authentic, quite like this before in Wagner. I don’t know enough about the man, but based on his highly charged music, I am pretty sure he would have approved of this sexual display.

In the final act with Tristan’s rotting flesh wound inflicted by Melot on full display, Wedd created a terrific momentum. With rip roaring vocal energy, he brought out all the drama in his part. “It’s all about the und in Tristan und Isolde,” I can still hear my college teacher proclaim. As Wedd sung about his love for Isolde, his other half, his und, I finally got what Mr. Stephenson meant: there’s no love without and. Tonight, what used to be a mere academic idea became a passionate memory. I was so struck by my epiphanous recollection, I actually let a laugh escape.

Lee Bisset (Isolde), Peter Wedd (Tristan) - LFO Tristan und Isolde 2017 cr Matthew Williams-Ellis (24).jpgPeter Wedd as Tristan and Lee Bisset as Isolde during the Liebestod

The other actors certainly added to the drama. Stuart Pendred’s Kurwenal offered convincing despair over the dying Tristan. Though his acting conveyed the worry and love for his fraternal companion, Pendred’s voice lacked body. After having been told about Brangäne duplicitous switch, Geoffrey Moses with avuncular conviction frailly vocalised Marke’s compassion for Tristan. Stephen Rooke conveyed Melot effectively: I just wanted Tristan’s nemesis to die.

A protege of Boulez and loyal Bayreuth enthusiast, Negus invigorated Wagner’s magnificent suspense ceaselessly, though not without a few off sounding passages from the orchestra. The Brass unnecessarily relocated above the audience towards the end sounded painfully muffled. However, the extraordinary singing positively inspired the orchestra to great heights. With the strings swelling and contracting, Negus offered dynamic momentum to Wedd and Bisset’s sizzling eroticism.

Ms. Bisset stole my heart as Isolde. I envy the audience who heard her Sieglinde. I checked all Ms. Bisset’s future engagements. For now, one must travel to Britain to witness her talents. With their chemistry conveying true love with such authenticity, I can’t imagine I will soon encounter another coupling quite like Wedd and Bisset.

During the applause, after Isolde’s Liebestod and the music had died off, this modest soprano appeared to be so drained from her performance, so utterly exhausted, it seemed Ms Bisset herself would burst into tears. Based on the flamboyant characters in the audience, this in-crowd appreciated all too well the rustic excellence at Longborough. I cannot wait to have my heart broken again here.

Next year at Longborough Opera Festival, you can experience Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer.

David Pinedo

Cast and production information:
Tristan: Peter Wedd; Isolde: Lee Bisset; King Marke: Geoffrey Moses; Kurwenal: Stuart Pendred; Brangäne: Harriet Williams; Melot: Stephen Rooke; Sailor/Shepard: Sam Furness; Helmsman: Adam Green; LFO Orchestra; Conductor: Anthony Negus; Director: Carmen Jakobi; Designer: Kimie Nakano; Lighting Designer: Ben Ormerod

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):