The legend of Tristan and Isolde originates in mediaeval Celtic cultures, probably Scottish, but there are early versions in Wales and Ireland, although the familiar story is the French 12th-century reworking. Wagner takes this tale of overwhelming passion and tragedy, cuts the details to the bare minimum, and creates the most voluptuous and sensuous of all operas. A successful staging requires singers who combine power and stamina with exquisite sensitivity, and a conductor of great experience, as the score is very long and of the greatest complexity.

The production is by PierAlli, who also is responsible for the lighting effects and the costumes. Wonderfully shifting scenes are created by way of images playing on almost invisible screens, which allow colours and shading to mutate, night to move to day, ship sails to appear and disappear, and all so lightly, so subtly and unobtrusively. Costumes are understated.

Gianluigi Gelmettis conducting is fruit of a miracle of immersion in the complexities of the score, of familiarity with it, and at the same time as an extraordinary exercise in cooperating with the singers, every note of whose singing was always perfectly audible, however massive the orchestration.

Tristan was the American, Louis Gentile; his appearance may not be heroic, but his voice is, although not always quite as loud as would be ideal. This cannot be said of Isolde, Anna Katharina Behnke, who manages to sing with refinement, and enormous power and volume while avoiding all squalliness, in addition to being physically lovely. Michele Kalmandy is a Kurwenal of great class, Hermine May a most touching Brangne, and Rafal Siwek a splendid King Mark.

Here we have, therefore, all the requisites for a great performance, one of which the Teatro dellOpera di Roma can pride itself and which augurs very well for the coming season.

Teatro dellOpera di Roma, Piazza Beniamino Gigli 1, Roma, tel. 06481601

18 November 2006 with further performances 21 and 22 November 2006