So it was no surprise that last night’s performance of Tristan and Isolde turned out as a magistral musical display: from the prelude to the final curtain drop, Runnicles coaxed a splendid performance out of the orchestra. The prelude, a slowly awakening crescendo, opening with the Tristan chord (which we mention only because it has its own wikipedia entry) and its delayed resolution, building up slowly in little increments into a full fledged sonic fury, set up the atmosphere for the evening: powerfull, tormented, the music turns and paces in larger and larger concentric circles, repeating and expanding the same motifs, small chromatic step by small chromatic step, bottling up energy until it reaches its explosive climax. Runnicles hold the rudder firmly and found new details, new colors, new textures in the melodic repetitions every time.

The orchestra as a whole deserves kudos, but we’ll give a special mention to harpist Olga Rakitchenkov for her beautiful support of the love duet in Act II, and to English horn Janet Popesco Archibald, whose backstage prelude of Act III was a marvel of lament and sorrow.

Pictures courtesy of SF Opera/Terrence McCarthy