Premiere of 'Tristan and Isolde' scores hit at Bayreuth Festival

BAYREUTH, Germany - A brand-new production of Richard Wagner's opera "Tristan and Isolde" by the composer's great-granddaughter was warmly received at its premiere on Saturday, marking the start of this year's legendary Bayreuth Festival.

Thirty-seven-year-old Katharina Wagner, who runs the month-long summer music fest, was greeted with cheers and applause by the first-night audience when she took her curtain call at the end of the six-hour performance.

By contrast, boos were heard for conductor Christian Thielemann and German soprano Evelyn Herlitzius, who had taken on the demanding role of Isolde at very short notice.

Katharina's was a dark and deeply pessimistic reading of one of Wagner's best-loved operas, setting the action in a maze of staircases in the first act where the two lovers can never come together.

The second act depicts the jealous King Marke, to whom Isolde is betrothed, as an evil and manipulative figure who imprisons the two lovers in his own personal torture chamber, where Tristan is eventually stabbed to death.

The third and final act shows the delirium of the dying Tristan.

US tenor Stephen Gould was rapturously applauded for his intense portrayal of Tristan.

Herlitzius gave a scorching performance as Isolde, making up in sheer stage presence for what she might have lacked in tonal beauty.

German mezzo Christa Mayer and Scottish baritone Iain Paterson were also outstanding in the roles of Brangaene and Kurwenal.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was among the illustrious guests attending the glittering first night, told the German news agency DPA that she had liked the production.

Separately, the mass-circulation daily Bild reported that Merkel had allegedly suffered a dizzy spell during the first of two intervals during the evening.

The newspaper said Merkel had briefly fainted and slipped from her chair in a restaurant, but guests came to her aid.

It was two minutes before she felt able to get up again, the newspaper said.

Organisers were not immediately available to confirm the information.

The Bayreuth Festival is one of the highlights in Germany's cultural calendar and Merkel and her husband Joachim Sauer have been regular guests for many years.

A long list of government ministers and regional and local politicians from the southern state of Bavaria also attended.

Tickets for Bayreuth are still among the hardest to come by in the world of opera and classical music, with the waiting list stretching to as many as 13 or 14 years for some productions.

This year marks the 150th anniversary since "Tristan and Isolde" had its world premiere. Katharina Wagner's is only the 11th production of the work at the Bayreuth Festival.

The Bayreuth Festival runs until August 28 with 30 performances of seven different operas - "Tristan and Isolde", "Lohengrin", "The Flying Dutchman" and the "Ring" comprising "Rhinegold", "The Valkyrie", "Siegfried" and "Twilight of the Gods".