"Opera has so much to give", says Christof Loy, whose new production of Tristan und Isolde opens at the Royal Opera House on 29th September. Loy's credentials lie in baroque and Mozart (read what the FT said of his recent Salzburg Handel Theodora HERE) He likes to get to the heart of the music and drama : "I don't like superficial distractions".
So don't expect chainmail and fussy costumes to tell this story. Loy's approach is to focus on the characters and how they develop. Not for nothing Wagner places so much emphasis on what happens before the opera even begins. Who are Tristan and Isolde, as human beings?
“These are fragile people”, he adds. “And fragile people often hide behind an emotional wall to hide their deepest feelings”. Tristan in particular is a much more complex person than his surface heroism might indicate. “He is an extremely damaged person, carrying so much guilt. His father died after begetting him, his mother died giving him birth, and he breaks his uncle’s heart. ‘Zu welchem Los erkoren, ich damals wohl geboren?’”
“So Tristan feels unworthy, but like so many macho men, he builds up an action hero image which has nothing to do with what he feels inside. He cannot express himself, he hides behind an emotional coat of armour”. To the world he may be “der Helden ohne Gleiche” but Isolde, ever sharp, sees him cowering, “in Scham und Scheue”.
Tristan und Isolde is so familiar that everyone carries baggage from past experience and assumptions. There's a saying that the path to wisdom lies in realizing just how much you don't know. So read the score with fresh ears, as if it were completely new. It's fascinating to see how explicit Wagner is on some things, yet elusive on other quite critical points. Read what Loy says in this interview HERE. Read what Loy says about Nina Stemme who sings Isolde. Ben Heppner is Tristan, Sophie Koch Brangane, John Tomlinson Marke and Michael Volle Kurnewal. Please also read my other posts on Tristan und Isolde - Glyndebourne and Bayreuth.
photo credit : Christof Loy, Royal Opera House 9/2009