The production of Tristan at the Washington National Opera (Philippe Auguin conducting, Neil Armfield staging) featured an interesting interpretation of the scene in Act II in which the lovers are betrayed by Melot and discovered by King Marke.
I am accustomed to Tristan and Isolde being surprised, humiliated, embarrassed, and eventually ashamed in the course of Marke’s powerful narration. No such thing here. Ian Storey’s Tristan and Iréne Theorin’s Isolde had become so fixed upon each other, and had so thoroughly transformed themselves from a pair to a single being, that the King’s sudden arrival did little to disturb their splendid isolation.
She nestled in his arms as he kneeled to protect and caress her. While Marke revealed his pain and asked for his explanations, they were entirely at peace. At the end of the narration it made perfect sense for Tristan to rise, approach the King somewhat boldly, and tell him that there were no answers for any of his questions — presumably because he and Isolde were now living in a world in which lovers such as they are accountable only to each other. And upon exchanging promises that they would follow each other to “the place where there is no sun,” they kissed long and hard, entirely oblivious to the astonishment and renewed hurt of Tristan’s beloved King.
This insight was of a piece in a gratifying production. The set, which was simply and gently modified for each act, was credited to Opera Australia. The cast was very good, though Mr. Storey was somewhat underpowered. Washington National Opera did its audience a service and itself a credit with this fine production.