Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre

First published in Reviews by

Revivals of successful WNO productions are increasingly looking and sounding better than the original first nights.

Without taking anything away from its 1993 unveiling, the re-appearance of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde with music director Lothar Koenigs in charge for the first time is an enhanced winner all round.

Much of its magnetic appeal is down to Koenigs and the WNO orchestra in re-vitalising the spare styling established by Greek director Yannis Kokkos and his team. It's as if the lack of visual detail on stage allows the musical sort to fill the void like an incoming tide.

Then there's the great Ben Heppner as Tristan paired with Danish soprano Ann Petersen as Isolde, with outstanding support from Phillip Joll as Kurwenal, Susan Bickley as Brangane and, pre-eminently, Matthew Best as King Marke.

The cast barely puts a foot wrong. That's literally an achievement in act three, as Kokkos's steeply-raked set combined with his ground-skimming costumes and, in the case of Heppner and Joll, the sheer weight of the performers makes for a few balancing acts.

Petersen is as close to the ideal Isolde as one could imagine, both physically and vocally. She phrases like a recitalist, hits her notes with consistent accuracy and carries undiminishing reserves of volume. Heppner, still a pleasure to listen to and doing with his voice what his physique can only hint at, is in musical terms her near-perfect match. Joll, with a rugged vocal line to go with his craggy character, is just the sort an ill-fated Tristan needs to have around before the inevitable end.

A world-class effort. One more chance, on June 2, to see it in Cardiff.

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