Longborough Festival Opera began operations in 1991 and has been performing Wagner most years since 1999, offering a full-scale Ring cycle in 2013 – and operatic challenges don’t come any bigger than that.
This year, it’s the turn of another hugely challenging work in the shape of Wagner’s profound and overwhelming tale of love and death.
When planning to perform Tristan, the first artists you need to locate are a soprano and a tenor who can convincingly represent the protagonists – their roles being as demanding as any in the operatic repertoire. Longborough scores convincingly here, with Peter Wedd and Rachel Nicholls offering interpretations that are dramatically focused and vocally determined.
Wedd – who made a huge success of Lohengrin with Welsh National Opera two years ago – matches his earlier triumph with the even more demanding role of Wagner’s tragic knight; his sterling metal tone is always incisive, and he maintains his vocal impact right through to the end of the third-act mad scene.
Perhaps a little less even, Nicholls still comes up with the goods required for Isolde, her clean and emotionally empowered vocalism fulfilling all essential requirements.
Alongside such heroic performances, those by Stuart Pendred (a noble Kurwenal), Frode Olsen (a moving King Marke), and Ben Thapa (a notable Melot) are all perfectly aligned with the leads in terms of quality; Catherine Carby’s Brangane is nearly at this level – although she had a bad patch towards the end of Act I the night I attended.
In other respects, the musical performance under conductor Anthony Negus is exceptional, the orchestral playing in particular sounding consistently rich and energised.
Unfortunately, Carmen Jakobi’s insipid production, which includes two entirely unnecessary dancers doubling Tristan and Isolde, diminishes the overall quality of an evening that is otherwise of genuinely international quality.