Gwyn Hughes Jones in searing delight: Tristan und Isolde, Grange Park Opera

June 21, 2023 by




Take singers in fabulous voice, the Gascoigne orchestra luxuriating in Wagner’s exquisite music and a visually and theatrically intelligent and beautiful production and you have the Grange Park Opera life-affirming Tristan und Isolde.

From those unmistakable opening sounds rising from the orchestra, under Stephen Barlow’s conducting, in the small and intimate Grange Park auditorium it was clear this was an event to savour. The colours and textures of the score transfixed the audience as wave after wave of musical and visual delight ebbed, flowed, soothed and crashed in this epic endeavour.

Combining musicality and dramatic performance Gwyn Hughes Jones has possibly never been better as in his vast Act Three monologue. The Welsh tenor is often at home with Puccini romantic roles or Verdi’s heroes and victims but here he embraced Wagner and staked a claim to the demanding challenges. Nicholls has established herself as a Wagnerian presence at the miracle that is Longborough in the Cotswolds and more recently the Ring at English National Opera. Here she is magnificent. A thrilling voice and a vibrant actress, eyes as flaming as her red hair as the incendiary Irish princess wreaks havoc to mere mortal men.


Gwyn Hughes Jones and David Stout



Rachel Nicholls


Rachel Nicholls


Gwyn Hughes Jones


Aided by an excellent David Stout as Kurwenal and, as a marvellously sung Brangäne, Christine Rice, this is a Tristan und Isolde team to travel far to hear and with sumptuous designs and costumes, to see. There are no weak members of this team and as King Marke we had a delicious performance from Matthew Rose, the first choice for an intoxicating bass.

The late Victorian setting was filled with Pre-Raphaelite imagery – including Isolde as Rosetti’s first great love, the model and artist Elizabeth Siddal – mock medieval tapestry, rugged coast and castle backdrops, even a harp that I half expected to start singing when our players could not bring themselves to pluck it. This was the era of the work’s writing and was that Wagner reading his composition as the seaman in the final act perhaps?

Continuing this theme, director and designer Charles Edwards, makes this as much a psychological and intellectual reading of the work as one of emotional and physical passion. Isolde may take the pose of Eros but when the two lovers are together it is not an erotic romp but a controlled affair (literally) sitting on the large sofa. When spied upon it is not really clear what the plotters can see apart from a polite parlour gathering under the potted palms.

The direction keeps the pair apart when Wagner would have them together, such as the quite awesome final scene. The intention may be that they are really always too separate souls, possibly that Tristan should never have been saved by Isolde after his first encounter with a fatal injury. While he disappears into a red-lit room she sings that so wonderful great Liebestod alone, before deciding not to join him through the double doors but to walk into the dry ice and bright light on the other side of the stage.



Until July 9

Images: Marc Brenner

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