Opera Scotland

Tristan und Isolde 1973Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Tristan and Isolde

After the success of the Ring performances developed between Spring 1966 and Spring 1972, it was hardly surprising that the company opted to expand the Wagner repertoire the following year.  Helga Dernesch had been singing (and recording) Isolde with Karajan in Salzburg and she was available.  She had now appeared with the company as Gutrune,  Leonore,  the Marschallin,  Brünnhilde and Cassandra, so the choice of this company favourite was obvious.  The number of performances envisaged made it necessary to recruit two casts for four of the major roles (only the wonderful Ann Howard, as Brangäne, appeared in all performances). The result was an extraordinary success on all counts.  The SNO played gloriously for Gibson, in what seemed an unusually lyrical style.

Ralph Koltai’s sets were visually effective, though the striking shades of green used in the second and third acts were perhaps too bilious for some tastes.  The first act, entirely grey, presented a large soup plate or saucer shape for the ship, with the four characters placed initially in pairs, one at the front, and the other behind a sail at the back.  That sail, translucent and grey, made it seem as though the ship was fogbound.  It was hoisted to allow the vessel to rotate, swapping the positions of the characters.   Chorus and sailor were hidden offstage.  In the second act, the bowl seemed to have been turned over to make a mound, which was then covered with astro-turf.  A dark woodland formed the background, along with the base of Brangäne's tower.  For the last act it was on its base again, though with a segment missing, and washed with a sickly yellowish light.  A new young costume designer from the Citizens Theatre made her company debut with great success, though Dernesch brought her more streamlined garments from the Salzburg production in place of Maria Bjørnson's Arthurian confections.

Both casts were consistently good.  Klara Barlow, in her only British appearances, was tireless, with a powerfully dramatic voice which contrasted with the lighter Dernesch sound - she was at her golden-toned best in these performances.  Barlow sang her Liebestod crouching over Tristan's corpse, while Dernesch stood stage-centre.  The two Tristans both looked stocky and acted with subtlety.  Nuotio sang with restraint then let rip in a most dramatic way in the final act.  Esser, a regular in smaller roles at Bayreuth, had a far darker tone, and managed to hold out to the end in spite of the energy dispensed earlier. 

Norman Bailey, about to sing Wotan in several Rings at the Coliseum, created a very different character as Kurwenal, seeming to shrink on the stage, as an obsessively devoted servant.  John Shaw, much taller, was also effective, if more orthodox.  David Ward made a wonderfully moving Mark, his rich, soft-focused tone full of emotion, but without over-sentimentality. Bill McCue also added to his accomplished list of serious parts.  Young David Fieldsend made a great impact in this company, producing a beautifully plangent tone as the shepherd.  Recent recruits from Australia and Canada respectively, Malcolm Donnelly and Frederick Donaldson both made a positive impact.

In addition to the Spring season, the production was revived for three performances later in the year.  Two of these, along with two performances of Pelléas, were at Sadler’s Wells in London, thus constituting the company’s first fully-staged productions in the capital.  The tour ended with a single performance in Leeds.

The first cast sang in Glasgow and Newcastle, the second, rehearsed by David Pountney, in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.  The three later performances, directed once more by Geliot, showed the first cast in Leeds and the second in London, with the exception that the Tristans swapped the first London performance with the Leeds one, in order to give them each a performance in London.

The Spring season also included a new staging of  Coronation of Poppea, with further performances of  Turn of the Screw,  Don Pasquale,  Marriage of Figaro and  Peter Grimes.  The autumn tour, in addition to Tristan and Pelléas, included  The Merry Widow (new in the summer) and revivals of  Madama Butterfly,  La Traviata and  A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Performance Cast


Frederick Donaldson

Isolde an Irish princess

Klara Barlow (Apr 28; May 2, 5, 11, 17 and 19; June 9, Oct 1 )

Helga Dernesch (May 26, 29; June 1, 7; Aug 29; Sep 1)

Brangäne Isolde's attendant

Ann Howard

Kurwenal Tristan's squire

Norman Bailey (Apr 28, May 7, 5, 11, 17, 19; Oct 1)

John Shaw (May 26, 29; June 1, 7, 9; Aug 29; Sep 1)

Tristan a Cornish knight

Pekka Nuotio (Apr 28; May 2, 5, 11, 17, 19; Aug 29)

Hermin Esser (May 26, 29; June 1, 7, 9; Sep 1; Oct 1)

Melot a Cornish courtier

Frederick Donaldson

King Mark King of Cornwall, Tristan's uncle

William McCue (Apr 28; May 2, 5, 11, 17, Oct 1 19;)

David Ward (May 26, 29;)June 1, 7, 9; Aug 29; Sep 1)


David Fieldsend


Malcolm Donnelly

Performance DatesTristan und Isolde 1973

Map List

King's Theatre, Glasgow | Glasgow

28 Apr, 17.30 2 May, 17.30 5 May, 17.30 11 May, 17.30

Theatre Royal, Newcastle | Newcastle-upon-Tyne

17 May, 17.30 19 May, 17.30

King's Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

26 May, 17.30 29 May, 17.30 1 Jun, 17.30

His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen | Aberdeen

7 Jun, 17.30 9 Jun, 17.30

Sadler's Wells Theatre | London

29 Aug, 17.30 1 Sep, 17.30

Grand Theatre, Leeds | Leeds

1 Oct, 17.30

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