Opera Scotland

Tristan und Isolde 1973Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Tristan and Isolde

After the success of the Ring performances developed between Spring 1966 and Spring 1972, it was hardly surprising that the company opted to expand the Wagner repertoire the following year. Helga Dernesch had been singing Isolde in Salzburg and was available, so the choice was obvious. The number of performances envisaged made it necessary to recruit two casts for four of the major roles (only the wonderful Ann Howard, as Brangäne, appeared in all performances). The result was an extraordinary success on all counts. The SNO played gloriously for Gibson, in what seemed an unusually lyrical style.

Ralph Koltai’s sets were visually effective, though the shades of green used in the second and third acts were perhaps too bilious for some tastes. The first act, entirely grey, presented a large soup plate or saucer shape for the ship, with the four characters placed initially in pairs, one at the front, and the other behind a sail at the back. That sail was hoisted to allow the vessel to rotate, swapping the positions of the characters. Chorus and sailor were hidden offstage. In the second act, the bowl seemed to have been turned over to make a mound, and covered with astro-turf. For the last act it was on its base again, though with a segment missing, and washed with a sickly yellowish light. A new young costume designer from the Citizens Theatre made her company debut with great success, though Dernesch brought her more streamlined garments from the Salzburg production in place of Maria Bjørnson's Arthurian confections.

Both casts were consistently good. Klara Barlow, in her only British appearances, was tireless, with a powerfully dramatic voice which contrasted with the lighter Dernesch sound - she was at her golden-toned best in these performances. The two Tristans both looked stocky and acted with subtlety. Nuotio sang with restraint then let rip in a most dramatic way in the final act. Esser, a regular in smaller roles at Bayreuth, had a far darker tone, and managed to hold out to the end in spite of the energy dispensed earlier. Norman Bailey, about to sing Wotan in several Rings at the Coliseum, created a very different character as Kurwenal, seeming to shrink on the stage, as an obsessively devoted servant. David Ward made a wonderfully moving Mark, his rich, soft-focused tone full of emotion, but without over-sentimentality. Young David Fieldsend made a great impact in this company, producing a beautifully plangent tone as the shepherd.

In addition to the Spring season, the production was revived for three performances later in the year. Two of these, along with two performances of Pelléas, were at Sadler’s Wells in London, thus constituting the company’s first fully-staged productions in the capital. The tour ended with a single performance in Leeds.

The first cast sang in Glasgow and Newcastle, the second, rehearsed by David Pountney, in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. The three later performances, directed once more by Geliot, showed the first cast in Leeds and the second in London, with the exception that the Tristans swapped the first London performance with the Leeds one, in order to give them each a performance in London.

The Spring season also included a new staging of Coronation of Poppea, with further performances of Turn of the Screw, Don Pasquale, Marriage of Figaro and Peter Grimes. The autumn tour, in addition to Tristan and Pelléas, included The Merry Widow (new in the summer) and revivals of Butterfly, Traviata and the Dream.

Performance Cast

Sailor

Frederick Donaldson

Isolde an Irish princess

Klara Barlow (Gla, New, Lds)

Helga Dernesch (Edi, Abn, Ldn)

Brangäne Isolde's attendant

Ann Howard

Kurwenal Tristan's squire

Norman Bailey (Gla, New, Lds)

John Shaw (Edi, Abn, Ldn)

Tristan a Cornish knight

Pekka Nuotio (Gla, New, Aug 29)

Hermin Esser (Edi, Abn, Sep 1, Lds)

Melot a Cornish courtier

Frederick Donaldson

King Mark King of Cornwall, Tristan's uncle

William McCue (Gla, New, Lds)

David Ward (Edi, Abn, Ldn)

Shepherd

David Fieldsend

Helmsman

Malcolm Donnelly

Performance DatesTristan und Isolde 1973

Map List

Kings Theatre, Glasgow | Glasgow

28 Apr, 17.30 2 May, 17.30 5 May, 17.30 11 May, 17.30

Theatre Royal, Newcastle | Newcastle-upon-Tyne

17 May, 17.30 19 May, 17.30

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

26 May, 17.30 29 May, 17.30 1 Jun, 17.30

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

7 Jun, 17.30 9 Jun, 17.30

Sadler's Wells Theatre | London

29 Aug, 17.30 1 Sep, 17.30

Grand Theatre, Leeds | Leeds

1 Oct, 17.30

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