The COC performance of Tristan und Isolde yesterday afternoon will live in my memory amongst a select collection of performances over the years which include Callas as Tosca, Jon Vickers as Otello, Birgit Nillsson as Elektra and Mirella Freni's first Adina and first Susanna. Of course there are a good many besides these - but this is up with the best.
When I became General Director of COC in 1989 Ben Heppner was a recent graduate of the Ensemble Studio. He subsequently went on to this magnificent career and we now find him in 2012 singing better than ever - his enormous experience enables him to pace his singing of this huge role with precision and he arrived at Act 3 yesterday without any sign of stress, which might otherwise be normal after three hours. Completely fresh, he nailed it in a most thrilling fashion. Wonderful!
His Isolde, Melanie Diener, singing the role for the first time, matched him completely - what a couple! There were fine contributions from Alan Held as Kurwenal, Franz-Josef Selig as King Marke and Daveda Karanas as Brangaene. Daveda will be remembered in Chicago for her Ericlea in COT's Ulisse in 2007. She has come a long way since then!
But this was also a company effort - from the most interesting Young Sailor, Ensemble Studio member Owen McCausland, and graduates of the studio Robert Gleadow and Adam Luther, to the magnificent orchestra built up over the years by Richard Bradshaw which in the hands of COC's music director Johannes Debus gave us five hours of glorious playing.
The famous Peter Sellars/Bill Viola 2005 production from Paris was recreated under Sellar's direction. He is not one to leave such things to an assistant! It works superbly.
COC's General Director, Alexander Neef, is one of the rare breed of General Directors whose flair and rigour ensure that there is quality in every department of the company's productions. This production was clearly covered with the fingerprints of a man who knows what he is doing and how to get it right. And I suspect that we will see the same quality control in the Tito this afternoon!