Mixed reception for ENO’s make-or-break Tristan

Mixed reception for ENO’s make-or-break Tristan


norman lebrecht

June 10, 2016

The vox populi coming out of the Coliseum last night was not ecstatic. The new Tristan and Isolde, directed by the company’s callow artistic director Daniel Kramer (pictured), had failed to overwhelm.

First reviews now trickling in tend to confirm that impression.

daniel kramer

Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph: Daniel Kramer’s staging … feels like something struggling against the massive simplicity of the plot and its philosophical hinterland. The most peculiar aspect is the presentation of the servants Brangäne and Kurwenal as a commedia dell’arte double act, cringing and servile caricatures who end up as syphilitic Beckettian hobos…. Such quirks suggest to me an ambitious and imaginative director without confidence, trying adolescently hard to make an original statement.

Andrew Clements in the Guardian: What won’t be resolved so easily are the problems with the staging, which is confused and illogical, and offers no obvious insights into Wagner’s drama. Certainly Anish Kapoor’s designs don’t help matters. In the first act, the space is divided into three segments with no heed paid to the audience’s sight lines, while much of the action is confined to the front edge of the stage in the other two, though the moon-like object that opens to reveal a beautifully lit grotto for the lovers in the second act is certainly striking.

But the glosses that Kramer adds seem gratuitous. Craig Colclough’s Kurwenal is a Jacobean fop in the first act and some hybrid between Benny Hill and a Beckett clown in the last…

David Nice, on TheArtsdesk: Daniel Kramer … has a few “bad Star Trek episodes” and many good ideas that don’t always join up or else outstay their welcome. Unevennness abounds: hideous costumes and makeup clash with Anish Kapoor’s eventually brilliant designs, singing and conducting are only patchily inspired.

On the other hand, Barry Millington in the London Evening Standard: For English National Opera and its incoming artistic director Daniel Kramer, whose production this is, much has depended on this new Tristan and Isolde, with designs by renowned sculptor Sir Anish Kapoor. It’s a brave and bold show, sometimes idiosyncratic, but at its best (the final act) full of resonant imagery and theatrically enthralling. In short, just what ENO needs. 

More to come.




  • pooroperaman says:

    Rupert has it just right – a ghastly production, only saved by Gardner and the orchestra.

    If the board wanted to kill the company off, their best bet would be to put Daniel Kramer in charge. Oh, hang on…

    • David Nice says:

      Be careful not to confuse director with Artistic Director. After all, I wouldn’t say that most of Kasper Holten’s productions have been successful (though unlike most I loved his Onegin), yet he has been a Good Thing for the Royal Opera, and always willing to engage with anyone who wants to ask him anything. So don’t judge too soon, and be wary of following the journalistic line of loading all hopes on to this production (not as good as at least two others this season so far, where artistic standards have never been higher).

  • Tantris says:

    Having been bludgeoned by the sheer ghastliness of Acts 1 and 2, I hadn’t the resolve left to endure Act 3. I’m no traditionalist, but it was mainly execrable.

    What a disappointment.

  • Hugh Mather says:

    None of them have even mentioned the quality of the singing and the music in general. Not sure they have their priorities right. Isn’t this what it’s all about ? If it’s the usual crazy production, you can always close your eyes and enjoy Wagner…

    • Nick says:

      Presumably for the very obvious reason that only parts of reviews are included, those parts specifically relating to the direction. After all, the director is the man who has been hailed as the saviour of the fast-sinking ENO. Granted this concept would have been completed before his appointment, but there seems little set the heather on fire here. Wonder what omens are floating around in the witches’ cauldron!

    • David Nice says:

      Of course we all did, Mr Mather. Skelton has to be (and mostly was) the first point of praise, closely followed by Cargill and Rose. And there was plenty to say about Gardner’s slow tempi at times, as to whether one bought them or not (I didn’t, since they seemed to lack Goodall’s intensity).