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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Tristan und Isolde at the Met

    I'll be reviewing tonight Tristan und Isolde which I'm attending in person at the Met. For this trip, I did not request any interviews, for two reasons: one, I'm hopelessly behind in completing the transcription work for the 13 interviews I collected in Europe this summer, so taking on more before finishing that is just wrong. Two, this time I'm not in town just for opera, but I have a professional meeting to attend, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry which will keep me busy during the day. So, I apologize to readers for not providing Opera Lively exclusive interviews with the artists for the four shows I'll be seeing: L'Italiana in Algieri reviewed yesterday, this one, then Jenufa, and Guillaume Tell (the latter, partially, since I have an important meeting at the convention overlapping with the first half of it; will have to join it in progress for the second half).

    Anyway, since I'll be busy and tired with long days, I'm starting this review thread already during a break, to type in the playbill info and production pictures, so that I go to bed earlier after the show.

    ----------------

    Tristan und Isolde, music drama in three acts, sung in German, with multilingual Met Titles
    Music and libretto by Richard Wagner, based on an ancient Celtic myth present in various forms throughout medieval Europe since at least 1210 - Wagner more specifically looked into Gottfried von Strassburg's unfinished poetic version of the myth
    Premiere: Court Theater, Munich, June 10, 1865

    This is the last day for this new production, and is the 463rd Metropolitan Opera performance of this work, on 10/27/2016

    Co-production with the Baden-Baden Festival, Polish National Opera, and China National Centre for the Performance Arts in Beijing

    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra conducted by Asher Fisch
    The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, chorus master David Palumbo
    English Horn solo by Pedro R. Díaz

    New production by Mariusz Trelinski
    Set Designer Boris Kudlicka - constructed by Teatr Wielki Polish National Opera
    Costume Designer Marek Adamski - done at Teatr Wielki and the Met
    Lighting Designer Marc Heinz
    Video Projection Designer Bartek Macias
    Choreographer Tomasz Wygoda
    Dramaturgs Piotr ruszczynski and Adam Radecki

    Cast, in order of vocal appearance

    A sailor's voice - Tony Stevenson
    Isolde - Nina Stemme
    Brangane - Ekaterina Gubanova
    Kurwenal - Evgeny Nikitin
    Tristan - Stuart Skelton
    Melot - Neal Cooper
    King Marke - René Pape
    A sheperd - Alex Richardson
    A steersman - David Crawford
    Young Tristan - Jonathan O'Reilly

    ------------

    Tristan und Isolde is my third favorite opera, after #1 the Ring cycle taken as one, and #2 Les Troyens. The first time I saw it, when it ended I felt like I was hit in the head by a brick and stayed literally speechless and with teary eyes for several minutes, so powerful it is. T&I has all the elements of a true operatic masterpiece: sublime music, and a plot encompassing love, life and death and the possibility of an afterlife, loyalty and betrayal in the context of warrior's code and guilty-ridden unfaithfulness, wild passions, magic, and philosophical considerations about illusion and truth, together with the metaphorical meanings of light and darkness. It adds to this a history-making, influential, and innovative score of lush symphonic grade. My friends, it doesn't get much better than this. T&I is definitely "top three of all time" material, and any opportunity to see it live is not to be missed.

    This new Met co-production places the action in a contemporary war setting, and is visually impressive, judging by the production pictures below (as I said, I'm typing this first part of the review ahead of actually watching the show, tonight).

    Musically speaking, T&I can be perceived as an exercise in the expression of unfulfilled yearning through music, using chromatic modulations that build up but never resolve, in what is known as the Tristan Chord.

    Vocally it is very taxing especially for the soprano (and it is good that we have such a specialist in this role, the great Nina Stemme), given her psychological arc that starts with her bright red anger in Act I that demands a lot of forceful singing, goes through the tumultuous emotions of the second act (she gets two high Cs right at the beginning of it) where she navigates through wave after wave of erotic earnings, and finishes in Act III by gruesome heroic solos for both the tenor and the soprano, with the former engaging in a prolonged narrative that requires stamina and musicianship, and the latter ending the opera with the long, difficult (including an octave leap), and gorgeous Liebestod. The score has some hidden gems, like the prelude to Act III being based upon the last four notes of the first musical phrase of the prelude to Act I: in the first act, the expression is desire, while in the third one it is desolation. Wagner is linking desire and despair. Also, there is a solo by the English horn that represents desire, but the end of the opera, in the crescendo of the Lieberstod, engages all instruments of the orchestra except the English horn, to signal that desire had died with the two protagonists. Clever!

    Whew! Tristan und Isolde is a wild ride! It is a long opera but with no time to breathe, with frenetic non-stop music and a dense libretto. The exquisite blending of all the operatic elements with impeccable perfection is a testament to Wagner's genius.

    During composition Wagner himself was quite taken by the power of this story, stating that since he had never enjoyed the true happiness of love himself, he wanted to "erect a monument to this most beautiful of dreams." He was influenced by Schopenhauer's philosophy of denial of the will and yearning for death.

    Wagner penned T&I in-between his creation of the Ring, after having finished the libretto for all four operas, and the music for Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. He was working on Siegfried and paused for T&I, in a moment when his own marriage was deteriorating and he was in exile in Switzerland for his participation in an uprising in Dresden. It is interesting to notice that the general idea that Wagner wrote T&I to illustrate his presumed affair with Mathilde Wesendonck is apparently false and the other way around: some historians say that Wagner's emotions were shaken by the story and the music to the point that he *then* engaged in this presumed affair (it is unknown if it was ever consumated).

    According to Wagner himself, he had the music for the opera in his mind all planned, before he got into writing the libretto. Unresolved chromatic harmony and dissonance - the key concept for Wagner's music for this work - are at the origin of a full school of music that emerged later in the Modernist movement. Musicians at the time were completely baffled by what Wagner was doing and called the score unperformable. This score influenced not only music, but also poetry, literature, painting, and theater. T&I is rightly placed among the most towering pieces of Western art.

    Ah, Nina Stemme! This great artist has done this role at Beyreuth, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden, Glyndebourne, Opéra de Paris, Zurich, and the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. She has also done several complete Brünnhildes. Ms. Stemme is my favorite singer in this role from DVD and broadcasts, and I look forward to seeing her live as Isolde for the first time. Evgeny Nikitin whould be a worthy Kurwenal; I've seen him around in other roles. René Pape is of course world-class. I don't know much about Stuart Skelton who hails from Australia. He did the role in Baden-Baden and the ENO; no clue if he was good. His CV does look impressive with several other Wagnerian appearances. We'll see.

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    The review is the third post in this thread.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); October 28th, 2016 at 04:35 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Production pictures gently authorized by the Met Press Department and credited to Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera






    Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme


    Same






    Nina Stemme and Ekaterina Gubanova
    Attached Images Attached Images              
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    OK, folks, I'm back from the performance.

    The three major upsides:

    Nina Stemme's performance (it was everything I expected, and oh so much better than her Turandot I saw at the Met as well - one would imagine that she was utterly uninterested in that Turandot, thinking "why oh why did my agent sign me up for this?" - while here, well, we got back *the* Nina Stemme we're used to: secure in her voice, with enormous stamina and projection, and exquisite acting).

    René Pape - too bad King Marke's role is small, because René is anything but. Such a pleasure to listen to him!

    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Wow. Was it even better than usual, tonight? I'd say so. There aren't many pleasures in life bigger than listening live to the best opera orchestra in the world playing one of the best operatic scores in the world. Outstanding!

    Other good points:

    A decent Tristan. Not as great as Nina's Isolde, but he didn't damage the performance in any way.

    A more than decent Kurwenal - Mr. Nikitin sang the role very well, making us forget that this is a comprimario role.

    The conductor - at the end of the run, it is no longer Sir Simon Rattle who is gone, but plan B worked well.

    Not so good:

    Our Brangane was correct but rather bland.

    I'm very ambivalent about the production. On one hand, it was appropriately dark (kudos to the lighting designer), very atmospheric and depressing which is fitting for this piece. The update to a warship was generally successful. The projections were excellent, most notably the powerful image of a black sun (like an eclipse), illustrating Tristan's avoidance of daylight.

    On the other hand, one wonders if now, after Katie Mitchell started the craze, the division of the stage in different floors with a staircase to the side is becoming a cliché. And we got almost all the other clichés in Regie: modern weapons, check. Blood, check. Militaristic setting and uniforms, check. Bleak scenery, check. Adding a mute character (I supposed it was Morold's ghost) observing the action and symbolizing death or the afterlife, check. Only a couple of Regie tropes were missing: no Nazis, and no nudity. But other than that, this production was close to being just another typical Regie one.

    Still, it kind of worked. The overall impact was positive - what I mean is, if someone sees this for the first time without having seen the predecessors with the same structure of the stage space and the common imagery used in bad Regie these days, one will find this production interesting and compelling.

    And given that the musical aspects were rather good, I'd say that this is a very recommended Tristan und Isolde. Not the best one I've seen, but pretty good.


    Homage to Katie Mitchell?
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); October 28th, 2016 at 07:55 PM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    I've only seen it on the small screen but the production left me rather cold. Nikitin must sound better in the house than recorded going by your comments (but it's hard for any bass to compete with the sheer glory of Pape's voice). I thought Stemme sounded a lot better in the Glyndebourne DVD, although she sis a great job of conveying Isolde's anger in the first act. The highlight of the performance I saw was Rattle's conducting - very dynamic and lush.
    Natalie

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Soave_Fanciulla View Post
    I've only seen it on the small screen but the production left me rather cold. Nikitin must sound better in the house than recorded going by your comments (but it's hard for any bass to compete with the sheer glory of Pape's voice). I thought Stemme sounded a lot better in the Glyndebourne DVD, although she sis a great job of conveying Isolde's anger in the first act. The highlight of the performance I saw was Rattle's conducting - very dynamic and lush.
    Yes, I agree that Stemme was better in the Glyndebourne DVD but I was still very impressed with listening to her live. The interesting thing is that her voice sounded small in Turandot, and was HUGE in Tristan und Isolde (most likely one of her favorite roles), and I was in similar seats so it is not a question of proximity to the stage. About Nikitin, he was fine. Pape's performance was much better, of course, which is why I classified his performance as "other good points" and Pape's as "major upside."

    Sometimes these wild variations have to do with a singer being under the weather. It is hard to gauge someone based on one specific performance. Maybe Mr. Nikitin wasn't doing so well when they recorded the performance that you saw, but was doing well yesterday.

    About the conductor, that's what I meant; I knew Rattle was no longer a member of this run and was expecting that I wouldn't like as much the orchestra's performance, but oh boy, they were sublime!

    It could also be that the Met Opera Orchestra is so good that they perform well regardless of the conductor (to a certain degree, of course). Or else, they acquired from Rattle how to play this score when he was doing it, and after his departure, they just repeated the same tricks although the conductor was different. Maybe there is some sort of musical memory of what they just did for the several other performances of the run. I don't know. One day I need to interview an instrumentalist to find out what they say of these things. We've interviewed many conductors but never a musician from a good orchestra. But the Met orchestra was particularly good yesterday, to a degree that surprised me (I mean, I know this orchestra is great, but they somehow seemed to do even better than their usual high standards - my surprise was like "oh, so the Met Orchestra can play even better than their already stratospheric quality?").
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); October 30th, 2016 at 05:42 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    I think I could listen to Nina Stemme sing the phone book (if a phone book could be found, that is). I've seen her sing three roles this year: Brunnhilde, Elektra and Isolde. Each was terrific.

    My sense of Tristan und Isolde productions - I've seen four (two mediocre productions and one pretty good one here in DC and one Regie in Berlin) is that it almost doesn't matter. The opera is generally static with extended dialogue/recitative but the composition is so strong that it seems to transcend almost anything - lousy or Regie productions and even singers who might be past their prime or have been talked into attempting something they shouldn't - doesn't matter. I have left the Kennedy Center either thinking the singing was ok or that some of the singing was not very good, but was still dazzled by what is a magical opera. In Berlin's case, the production was strange (T&I as junkies) and over the top (male and female total nudity) but the singing was extraordinary (Nina Stemme and Stephen Gould). The productions, in all cases, really were incidental to the productions (I meant the power of the opera).
    Last edited by Hoffmann; October 30th, 2016 at 11:52 AM.

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    I think I could listen to Nina Stemme sing the phone book (if a phone book could be found, that is). I've seen her sing three roles this year: Brunnhilde, Elektra and Isolde. Each was terrific.

    My sense of Tristan und Isolde productions - I've seen four (two mediocre productions and one pretty good one here in DC and one Regie in Berlin) is that it almost doesn't matter. The opera is generally static with extended dialogue/recitative but the composition is so strong that it seems to transcend almost anything - lousy or Regie productions and even singers who might be past their prime or have been talked into attempting something they shouldn't - doesn't matter. I have left the Kennedy Center either thinking the singing was ok or that some of the singing was not very good, but was still dazzled by what is a magical opera. In Berlin's case, the production was strange (T&I as junkies) and over the top (male and female total nudity) but the singing was extraordinary (Nina Stemme and Stephen Gould). The productions, in all cases, really were incidental to the productions (I meant the power of the opera).
    I agree about the production not mattering that much. The only time I have seen it live was a concert version with a fairly diminutive Tristan in evening dress (so funny) but I came out raving and overwhelmed by the overall experience.
    Last edited by Hoffmann; October 30th, 2016 at 11:51 AM.
    Natalie

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Soave_Fanciulla View Post
    I agree about the production not mattering that much. The only time I have seen it live was a concert version with a fairly diminutive Tristan in evening dress (so funny) but I came out raving and overwhelmed by the overall experience.
    Agreed, this is one powerful opera and it works on CD only, so the production is not the essential point, with all that gorgeous music and psychological arc.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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