Tristan und Isolde

Tristan und Isolde at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Bayreuther-tristan * Notes * 
The closing performance of the Bayreuther Festspiele was Friday night's Tristan und Isolde. The orchestra had a full, even tone under the direction of Peter Schneider. However, the volume overwhelmed the singers in many cases. The singing started off roughly for the two principals, at first, Iréne Theorin (Isolde) shrieked flatly and Robert Dean Smith (Tristan) was nearly inaudible. As Brangäne, Michelle Breedt was shrill, and as Kurwenal, Jukka Rasilainen was monochrome. At least Martin Snell (Steuermann) sounded pretty and the chorus sang with vim.

The second act was a definite improvement. Theorin sang on key and blended nicely with Smith. Their duet was lovely. As König Marke, Robert Holl's voice was a grave contrast to Smith's. By the last act, Rasilainen pulled through, singing with emotion and beauty at the end. Smith gave an arresting performance in the first half of Act III, and was only muffled by the orchestra a few times. On the contrary, Theorin's Liebestod was conspiciously less dazzling, though her pianissimo at the beginning was exquisite.

The production from Christoph Marthaler was dull, we started the evening at the top of a building, and made our way down. Anna Viebrock's set involved peeling wallpaper and other signs of decay, and her costumes wended their way through the 20th century. The scenes were often static, but were punctuated with nonsensical movement. Kurwenal wandered around the periphery near the end of Act II and would periodically fall down. All the characters except Tristan and Isolde ended up facing the walls during the Liebestod.

* Tattling * 
The audience murmured, and there was quite a lot of noise before the Liebestod, when more than one person exited the theater. The German man behind me in Row 15 Seat 24 on the right side of the Parkett hovered over me for much of Acts I and II, he touched my hair more than once. During Act III I decided the only way to be comfortable was to simply assert myself, so I sat on the cushion I brought but did not need, and sat as straight as possible. This worked very well. Unfortunately, my companion was less lucky, the American in Row 14 Seat 22 slept through much of the first two acts, but was woken when his cellular phone rang in the middle of Act II. At the second intermission he must have had a good deal of coffee, for I could smell his breath during Act III, as he stared over in our direction. Whilst awake, he elbowed my companion several times and also talked. It was utterly bizarre, he was in some sort of Wagner Society, had the libretto in German, and also extensive notes on all the operas at the Festspiele this year.

There were scattered boos when the curtain came down at the end, presumably for the boring staging and not Theorin.

Paris Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-11 2008: Eugene Onegin
September 24- November 2 2008: Rigoletto
October 11- November 2 2008: The Bartered Bride
October 13- November 12 2008: Cunning Little Vixen
October 30- December 3 2008: Tristan und Isolde
November 17- December 23 2008: Die Zauberflöte
November 25- December 21 2008: Fidelio
January 17-30 2009: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
January 24- February 8 2009: Yvonne, princesse de Bourgogne
January 29- March 4 2009: Madama Butterfly
February 27- March 22 2009: Idomeneo
February 28- March 26 2009: Werther
April 4- May 8 2009: Macbeth
April 10- May 23 2009: Un ballo in maschera
May 4-18 2009: The Makropulos Affair
May 20- June 5 2009: Tosca
June 13-21 2009: Demofoonte
June 18- July 2009: King Roger

Riccardo Muti conducts Demofoonte. Waltraud Meier sings Isolde opposite of Clifton Forbis. Paul Groves sings the title role of Idomeneo, with Joyce DiDonato as Idamante and Camilla Tilling as Ilia. Rolando Villazon shares the role of Werther with Marcus Haddock. Deborah Voigt shares the role of Amelia with Angela Brown and Ulrica Elena Manistina.

2008-2009 Schedule | Official Site

Tristan und Isolde Live in HD Met Simulcast

Mettristan * Notes *
The Dieter Dorn/
Jürgen Rose production of Tristan und Isolde was shown as a simulcast yesterday. I tried my best not to worry too much about the set and staging, as I did not find the Dorn/Rose Le Nozze or Così at Bayerische Staatsoper particularly interesting, though their Don Carlo was not bad. However, I found myself liking the production, especially Max Keller's lighting. Naturally, in Act III, there were ridiculous props on stage to signify we were in Kareol, including a number of toy knights in armor.

James Levine conducted well, the orchestra and singers were all synchronized. Deborah Voigt (Isolde) was in fine form, she only had one small gasp before she put the torch out in Act II. She sang the "Liebestod" beautifully. Robert Dean Smith's debut as Tristan at the Met seemed to go smoothly, especially considering he was in Berlin a few days ago and was flown in just for this performance. There were a few times when the orchestra overwhelmed him, and when he didn't exactly know where to be on stage. Michelle DeYoung was lovely as Brangäne, her high notes are fine and her voice is strong without being ugly. Matti Salminen embodied King Marke, he looked and sounded the part.

* Tattling *
Susan Graham was a fine host, I never noticed how expressive her eyebrows are. Her interviews with Levine and Voigt were especially charming. There was only one time the sound went out this time, for a few seconds when Kurwenal was singing in Act III. From the simulcast, it was quite clear that both Voigt and DeYoung have perfect teeth, and that Voigt's eyes are a most brilliant blue.

Barbara Willis Sweete's filming of the simulcast was extremely irritating. She employed the use of multiple images, which in and of itself could have been useful, but since the perspective kept changing and the images moved around, tracking a certain character, it was simply headache-inducing. Often the field of vision was constricted, so that there was just one small box on the screen with a bunch of empty black space around it. It was also quite annoying when the images would show either exactly the same image (the image of the flame trebled, for example), or the same person in different views. The constant motion was at odds with the production and with the work itself.

The Wagnerians were out in full force, the movie theater was sold-out. One couple arrived late and sat in front of me, they spoke at full volume a few times. The female half of the couple received a phone call during Act III, as the male half kept falling asleep and snoring.

Lyric Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 27- October 31 2008: Manon
October 6- November 4 2008: Les Pêcheurs de Perles
November 7-30 2008: Lulu
November 18- December 19 2008: Porgy and Bess
December 13 2008- January 29 2009: Madama Butterfly
January 19- February 28 2009: Tristan und Isolde
February 14- March 27 2009: Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci
March 2-28 2009: Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Lyric Opera of Chicago announced their 2008-2009 season this morning. Natalie Dessay will be singing Manon, Nathan Gunn will be Zurga in Les Pêcheurs de Perles, William Burden is Alwa in Lulu, Patricia Racette sings Butterfly, and Dolora Zajick stars in Cavalleria. The Tristan und Isolde production is the Hockney one from Los Angeles, which is being performed this season, and was at San Francisco last season. Deborah Voigt will be singing Isolde with Clifton Forbis as Tristan. Juha Uusitalo is having his Lyric Opera debut as Kurwenal. Francesca Zambello's production Porgy and Bess from Washington National Opera is also coming to San Francisco, and was performed in Los Angeles last year.

Press Release [PDF] | Lyric Opera Site

Oed' und leer das Meer

Tristanisolde_1* Notes *
The fourth performance of Tristan und Isolde was last night, and it was consistent with the previous performance I saw last week. Thomas Moser (Tristan) started off pretty well in Act I, and he sang beautifully in Act II, but by Act III he was rather quiet.

* Tattling *
The audience was at its worst, quite unlike October 10th, I suspect it is because there are no other performances during the work week, and there were four in the prior one. One individual who arrived late was made to sit in standing room, and he talked in a normal speaking voice, dragged the chair about, and refused to be quiet after repeated hushings. For Act III someone gave me his ticket for Z 118, the last row of the orchestra, and at one point all the people immediately around me were asleep. A woman fanning herself with a program spoke during the "Verklärung," to tell her companion (who had been asleep most of the act), "Look he's getting up!" in reference to the silly choreographic choice of having the dead Tristan rise to stand behind Isolde.

* Overheard *
During the first intermission I heard a hilarious exchange between two men, one of which was a graduate student who had lived in Berlin until recently. The graduate student said something about how the San Francisco crowd for Wagner was much gayer than in Berlin, where the people are the type to wear black turtlenecks. I had no idea black turtlenecks and gaiety were mutually exclusive. Also, the other man mentioned that Ms. Brewer would not enjoy Covent Garden, in reference to her weight and the
Voigt incident. The graduate student exclaimed that he had never seen a skinny Isolde. I wanted to mention Waltraud Meier in Bayerische Staatsoper's DVD, but decided it was best not to comment.

Before Act II started, a young man was excoriating the King Arthur performance recently in Berkeley as he walked to his orchestra seat with a friend. Apparently he was dragged to Zellerbach without his consent. He said he despised Mark Morris and that there was nothing exquisite in his choreography, that it was tawdry.

Frisch weht der Wind

Hockneytristan* Notes *
Los Angeles Opera's 1987 production of Tristan und Isolde was revived last week in San Francisco. The production was designed by David Hockney, best known for his swimming pool paintings from the sixties. The set looked much like a large-scale colorful pop-up book, filled with strange details, such as curtains attached to nothing on board Act I's ship and Celtic knots as leaves in Act II's forest. Similarly, the medieval costumes were rather bright, at least until Act III, and uniformly made of velvet. It reminded me of the Land of Make-Believe in the esteemed children's television show Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

The choreography was bizarre, often the singers would simply stand as if they were in an oratorio and not a staged production, or worse hold some unnaturally static position. The sailor who begins the opera with "Westwärts schweift der Blick" had his back to the audience, which doesn't make for particularly good theater.

Jane Irwin (Brangäne) held her own, even singing with Christine Brewer (Isolde), who has a powerful and dramatic voice. Thomas Moser sang better as Tristan than as Florestan last season, some of his higher notes are quiet. Both Brewer and Moser had good diction, though there is an advantage in that Wagner wrote so that the words could be discerned. Runnicles kept it together in the orchestra pit.

* Tattling *
Though I arrived late for Evan Baker's preview lecture, it seemed to go well. Baker can actually pronounce words in German. He used the the Nilsson-Windgassen-Böhm recording from the 1966 Bayreuth Festival for his musical examples.

The audience was possibly the best-behaved I have ever encountered. Part of this is because the hall was not full, and even though I got my standing room ticket less than an hour before curtain, I was the twentieth standee. I imagine most people are intimidated by a performance that is more than four and a half hours long. People left at each of the two intermissions, and I had the standing area nearly to myself by the end. I did not hear a single mobile phone, and better yet, not a single beep marking the hour from an electronic watch.