It must be the first time that I had to miss the first act of an opera. A long meeting meant I couldn't make it to the first act of this new production of Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera last night.
The second act got off to a promising start: Nina Stemme proved to be a promising Isolde with stage presence and a voice to match. Unfortunately she sang opposite a somewhat erratic Ben Heppner. While the love duet was well matched, Heppner became increasingly wayward with his chromatic passages in the lower register - there were, to my ears at least, some excruciating moments. Luckily, Pappano and the Royal Opera House Orchestra kept it all going with intensity and line - thus alleviating the pain of poor tonal quality from Heppner.
As a late replacement, John Tomlinson gave a strong performance of King Marke. The Liebestod at the end was memorable as Stemme rose to the challenge and her voice came soaring above the think orchestration.
As it was the first night, the audience was decisive in its verdict: Stemme, Tomlinson and Pappano received rapturous applause; the clapping dampened and quite a few in the audience booed when the Christof Loy (director) and Johannes Leiacker (designs) appeared on stage; the applause resumed for the orchestra. Why? The stage was bland with chipboards painted in a non-descript grey. The entire cast wore either dinner suits / evening dress or black shirts. It felt more like a concert performance than a staged opera. Let's hope most of the budget went to the singers and musicians.