“Tristan + Isolde”
January 17, 2016
by Ilona Landgraf
Copyright © 2016 by Ilona Landgraf
How many performances exist in which the energy already rises with the first tunes of the prelude? Which make one feel that something substantial is about to happen? David Dawson’s “Tristan + Isolde” danced by the Semperoper Ballet Dresden is such a ballet. About one year after its premiere the company revived the piece for three performances in January. Two more are scheduled for June. The car trip to Dresden is long and no fun on wintery highways, yet watching the piece again compensated for the effort. Having ripened during the last year it now is unfolding its whole power.
Dawson didn’t resort to Richard Wagner’s score but commissioned the Polish composer Szymon Brzóska with new music. The Sächsische Staatskappelle Dresden playing under the baton of Benjamin Pope gave an excellent rendition. Listening to it for the second time I realized much more how perfectly the music underscores and enhances the story, how many nuances it has, how much foreboding it conveys. It contributes to unveiling the tragic love triangle on a higher, spiritual dimension while keeping Tristan and Isolde’s faith very tangible.
The original legend takes place in Ireland, Cornwall and on the ship crossing the Irish sea in between. Yet Dawson left historical references behind. He focused on the tragic love triangle between Isolde; King Marke; and Tristan, Marke’s nephew and the leader of his warriors. Set design and lighting (by Eno Henze and Bert Dalhuysen) evoke no specific places. The court of Morold, the Prince of Ireland, could be anywhere. Huge, dark, moveable blocks form the walls of Isolde’s rooms but they tell even more of social constrains, pressures everyone has to bow to. The ship on which Tristan brings Isolde to Marke seems to be on a passage to another realm rather than to Cornwall, on an ocean of awakening emotions which due to the magic love potion quickly grow into a passionate storm. King Marke’s court is framed by a small arch of opaque light. It is a place of elegantly restrained luster. Tristan and Isolde’s last night of love, their discovery by Marke, Tristan’s fatal wounding and his death take place in undefined outdoor surroundings.
Yumiko Takeshima designed simple costumes with effective cuts and colors. The Irish folk, for example, who enjoy an unburdened and peaceful life, wear bright, monochrome hues, indicating vitality, individuality and a positive approach to life. Some details especially caught my eyes: The love potion was gold powder Tristan and Isolde had blown over each other. Afterwards, imbued with love, every inch of their skin sparkled gently. Though King Marke certainly was a kind, attentive husband, his only gleam derived from his plain crown.
Also a small prop, a dark purple flower, sticks in my mind. It had fallen from the funeral bier of Prince Morold, Isolde’s uncle, whom Tristan had killed when assaulting his court to get Isolde. Tristan got this flower from Isolde’s hand and kept it dear until his end. It is a symbol of his being guilty, of both knowing about the murder and of love being stronger than all guilt. Watching how this flower gave Tristan hope and strength tugged at one’s heartstrings.
As was the case last season, Isolde was danced by Courtney Richardson; Fabien Voranger was Tristan. Richardson fits this role like a glove. She portrayed a poised woman who accepted her duty, marrying King Marke, with unwavering dignity. Her strength derived from within, from her sincerity towards herself. She has both feet planted firmly on the ground while also possessing spiritual power. She was genuine towards her emotions; and though she deceived Marke, that didn’t taint her soul. Her dance was a flow of expressive phrases which drew a coherent picture of Isolde’s character.
Voranger aptly conveyed the contrasting facets of Tristan’s personality, a man driven by strong emotions. When fighting with Morold cold fury gradually boiled up inside him. Love and desire tore his heart apart when Isolde was consigned to Marke. Though he couldn’t bear watching her dance with him at the wedding ceremony, his eyes searched her again and again. Voranger was even stronger in his solos than at the premiere, filling the stage with his presence.
Perfectly attuned to each other Richardson and Voranger were magnetic. Their emotions spread to the audience making one feel with them. Dawson gave them a beautiful last pas de deux, in which Tristan, fatally wounded by Marke’s warriors, refuses to be healed by Isolde again. Once previously she had saved his life when healing the wound Morold had inflicted on him. It had been the origin of their love. Now, facing death, their last dance spoke solely of love. Neither of them clung to the other but each one gave his heart. At the end Isolde knelt over the dead Tristan and repeated her magic arm movement. This time she couldn’t revive him but the intense energy she evoked redeemed his soul.
Last season Raphaël Coumes-Marquet had danced King Marke. Having retired from the stage meanwhile, he this time mastered the challenge of staging the ballet. Instead of Coumes-Marquet, tall Christian Bauch gave his debut as Marke. The role is demanding but Bauch found the right balance between a powerful ruler and a sensitive man. My compliments to him! Laurent Guilbaud was Morold, a likeable, relaxed monarch. He enjoyed mixing amongst his dancing folk. Witnessing his brutal murder gave me a stifling feeling.
Yet I was especially happy to see Jón Vallejo back on stage after a long absence due to injury. He danced Melot, a liegeman of Marke, the one who reveals to him Isolde’s and Tristan’s betrayal. Visibly relishing his performance Vallejo dashed through his solo leaving no doubt that he is back in shape. As Brangäne, Isolde’s maidservant, Caroline Beach gave her the love potion. The corps danced with gusto at Prince Morold’s as well as at King Marke’s court.
“Tristan + Isolde” is a cornerstone in the Semperoper Ballet’s repertory. The level of quality it represents should give direction to the company’s future development.
|Links:||Homepage of Semperoper Ballet|
|David Dawson’s Homepage|
|Ian Whalen’s Homepage|
|Photos:||1.||Courtney Richardson (Isolde) and Fabien Voranger (Tristan), “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|2.||Courtney Richardson (Isolde) and Fabien Voranger (Tristan), “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|3.||Fabien Voranger (Tristan) and Courtney Richardson (Isolde), “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|4.||Courtney Richardson (Isolde), “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|5.||Fabien Voranger (Tristan) and ensemble, “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|6.||Fabien Voranger (Tristan), “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|7.||Courtney Richardson (Isolde) and Fabien Voranger (Tristan), “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|8.||Fabien Voranger (Tristan) and Courtney Richardson (Isolde), “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|9.||Fabien Voranger (Tristan), “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|10.||Fabien Voranger (Tristan) and Courtney Richardson (Isolde), “Tristan + Isolde” by David Dawson, Semperoper Ballet Dresden 2016|
|all photos © Ian Whalen 2016|