Wagner's demanding tale of ill-fated lovers performed with passion and sensitivity.
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's Tristan und Isolde was a staggering achievement and a triumph for music director Eckehard Stier, whose musical ecstasies on the podium sometimes rivalled those of Wagner's ill-fated lovers.
In a sublime 4 hours, we were shown why music would never be the same after this masterpiece, with its unique blend of sexuality, psychology and philosophy, in a score that burst the very language of music asunder.
Lars Cleveman and Annalena Persson were a superb Tristan und Isolde. Their coming together was observed in telling detail, while the great love scene that followed soared with a rare blend of intimacy and passion.
Wagner's dual demands of stamina and sensitivity were no problem for Cleveman in his finely paced and nuanced third act where, mortally wounded, he sings for 45 minutes.
Closing the opera, Persson's Liebestod delivered the ultimate Wagnerian transcendence.
Runi Brattaberg, as King Marke, combined sympathy and authority, gloriously voiced, in his second act monologue.
Daveda Karanas made a real character of Brangane, tied by destiny to the fate of her mistress, while Bo Skovhus' Kurwenal was at his most moving in the final act, bonding with his dying friend.
Smaller roles, including Marco Stella as a malevolent Melot, were well delivered and the men of the Chapman Tripp Chorus were a lusty, vocally resplendent crew of sailors.
Cynics have jested that singers are the icing on Wagner's rich orchestral cake, as all the drama is signposted in the instrumental underlay.
The APO more than lived up to its responsibilities here. If the opening Prelude had a few nervous twitches, three hours later, the third act opened with soul-gripping intensity.
Marke was hailed with spectacular effect, yet there was much exquisite solo work, most visible when Martin Lee played his melancholy cor anglais from the choir stalls.
As if Tristan und Isolde were not enough of an achievement, the APO returns on Thursday with a concert featuring another important opera, Berg's Wozzeck - a cheering sign that this orchestra is determined that Aucklanders get the very best music possible.
What: Tristan und Isolde
Where: Auckland Town Hall