BWW Review: It's TRISTAN Interruptus Again, with Goerke and Gould in Act II of the Wagner Epic
In Lincoln Center's White Light Festival/Great Performers at David Geffen Hall
When New Yorkers last saw a concert performance of Act II of Wagner's TRISTAN UND ISOLDE--in the spring of 2018 with the Boston Symphony under Nelsons--a major singer was trying on one of the title characters for size. That was tenor Jonas Kaufmann. This time, it was Isolde who was ready for her closeup, with soprano Christine Goerke in a can't-wait-for-the-whole-opera performance, under Gianandrea Noseda with the Washington Symphony at Lincoln Center's White Light Festival/Great Performers.
Who won? I'll get back to that in a moment. "Who lost?" is a better question after Sunday's performance.
No, it wasn't any of the singers who was at issue. While Goerke was still "on book" (score neatly next to her on a music stand, though only occasionally looked at), she sounded great, with her big, soaring soprano and a characterization that had us in her corner from the beginning.
She doesn't have the role quite under her belt yet--or maybe she just needed more comfortable shoes--but certainly no one left short-changed by her performance of the Irish princess. She was paired with a well-practiced tenor, Stephen Gould, as the amorous Breton nobleman, who showed off a mammoth voice that paired well with her, in song as in drama.
Nor was it mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova as Bragane (Isolde's maid), even more earthy and chilling than she had been in the Met's new production, three years ago, nor bass Gunther Groissbock, as a magnificent King Marke, forceful, earnest and hardy, and so compelling that he nearly stole the show. (Baron Ochs in DER ROSENKAVALIER, at the Met next month, doesn't give a hint of his range as a performer.) Tenor Neal Cooper's well-traveled Melot (Tristan's frenemy) and bass-baritone Hunter Enoch's Kurwenal (his servant) did well in their smaller, but key, roles.
No, thit was everyone who had to sit through the first forty minutes of bombast from Maestro Noseda, who kept the sound level so high that the singers had to fight him off. It would take a great deal to drown out Goerke (or Gould, for that matter) but it seemed that it wasn't from a lack of trying. It's not like this was the first performance of this concert, since it came directly from Washington DC, the National's home, where it was given twice last week.
According to Anthony Tommasini in the NY Times, who reviewed the first of the Washington performances, Noseda has little experience with Wagner, and during the first half of the concert, this showed, starting with the speed of the introduction to the act. Granted, the score is a giant-killer for conductors (and orchestras) that he wasn't ready for, though the second half of the Act was decidedly better under control.
Nevertheless, the performance gave us an opportunity to hear the regal princess-in-waiting of Goerke, along with her satisfying co-stars. Whatever other shortcomings there were in the performance, she made it worth our time. As for Kaufmann versus Goerke, as the newbies in the world of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, that's not the point. How about Kaufmann und Goerke? (If only we were sure he would show up...)