The focal point of the conference will be a performance based on the historic production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde directed by Gustav Mahler in Vienna in 1903, with set designs by Secession artist Alfred Roller. This production marked a turning point in twentieth-century opera staging in terms of acting technique, lighting, set designs and dramatic conception. Our production, entitled Isolde, offers at once a research-based contemporary reading of Wagner’s Tristan and a reconstruction of this historic performance, starting from two main sources: an acting treatise written by the singer who performed Isolde under Mahler in 1903, Anna von Mildenburg; and Roller’s surviving sketches for stage sets and costumes. A historical perspective will be paired with a bold reinterpretation of Tristan concentrating on the character of Isolde. By removing the dramatic core of the opera (the love scene) and keeping only the passages involving Isolde and her confidante Brangäne, we will focus on Isolde’s state of mind before and after the encounters with Tristan. Isolde allows for a heightened intimacy between the two female characters by using a chamber orchestra, providing an opportunity to perform Wagner’s opera in an exceptionally concentrated version that brings out the orchestra’s voice as an expression of the work’s fundamental ‘drama’. Our dramaturgy thus probes the relationship between reconstruction and interpretation processes and will provide a unique opportunity to foster crucial exchanges between research and performance practice, both by enacting scholarly perspectives on stage and, in turn, by taking the performance as the matter of academic debates.
Isolde: Kirstin Sharpin
Brangäne: Mae Heydorn
Conductor: John Warner
Stage director: Cecilia Stinton
Stage designer: India Jacques
Lighting designer: Jennifer Hurd