Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.

Schoenberg and company

With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

James Conlon
17 Feb 2008

LA Opera: Tristan und Isolde

My Valentine’s Day gift came a bit early courtesy of Los Angeles Opera. Of course, it is to be hoped that your own celebration has a happier outcome than that of opera’s most famous Love Couple, “Tristan und Isolde.”

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde
Los Angeles Opera

Above: James Conlon

 

Although on face value the piece might serve as a cautionary tale against sharing any adult beverages with your love interest du jour, the LA production persuasively plumbed the work’s musical depths and romantic sentiments, and made a loving Valentine indeed out of the mystic beauty contained in Wagner’s finest Gesamtkunstwerk.

David Hockney’s evocative scene design is being seen in its second revival, having premiered in LA in 1987. It remains quite a handsome and effective production, well-maintained, and beautifully lit by Duane Schuler. Indeed, the deceptively monochromatic look of many structural surfaces takes the light exceptionally well, and the transformative powers of different strong color filters created masterful delineation of the story’s quicksilver moods. The judicious use of specials, area lighting and tight follow spots heightened the shifting destinies of the principal characters.

A modern-art re-imagining of the structural elements of Act One’s ship included a colorful, broadly striped raked deck receding with forced perspective; wildly stylized sails and colorful draperies, akimbo in the wind; and a chaise for “Isolde” that would not be out of place in a Picasso cubist drawing. Act Two’s fateful garden featured a similar rake, with a grove of trees receding at stage left, topped with cut-out boughs right out of a Matisse scrapbook; and a rather more realistic fortress wall running the length of stage right, the balcony of which looked to be “Juliet’s” famous perch, borrowed from Verona.

The serene field in Act Three is arguably the the most fanciful structure, rising on the upstage rake to include a sort of shapely “splashing wave” of green meadow. A couple of well-placed field stones are framed by a large cutout tree branch just behind the proscenium. All of this set was quite colorless at first, commenting on “Tristan’s” coma, then catching fire in the colored lights to great effect as his agitation mounts.

treleaven.john.pngJohn Treleaven (Tristan)

While all of this worked well enough, it has to be said that Mr. Hockney’s highly individual decorative gifts did seem to root the visuals in an artistic vocabulary of, well, twenty years ago. And, for all the imagination that the set and lights embodied, the costumes were merely (though not badly) Prince Valiant Standard Issue, albeit in faaaaaaaaaabulous colors. Our heroine looked especially lovely in her deep wine gown --- well, okay, okay, with the sole misjudgment of plopping a squatty crown with clinging veil on her head to meet “King Marke,” which had the dire effect of reducing her visually, however briefly, to a pissed off Smurf.

Music Director James Conlon brought his considerable experience to bear and led a richly detailed, rhythmically propelling, dramatically taut, and downright lavish reading of this glorious score. To name but one superb moment in an afternoon of abundant delights, the aching and longing of the Act Three prelude has seldom been so deeply felt and profoundly affecting. From those first familiar arching phrases and restless chords, he was in full command of his forces, and shaped the proceedings with passion and intelligence.

watson.linda.pngLinda Watson (Isolde)

Balance with the stage was sometimes another matter, but only sometimes, and then only when the principals were singing rapid declamation in their lower registers. One such time was in “Brangaene’s” important exposition where the beautiful cello solo, meant to be commenting, was instead competing.

It must said that the Dorothy Chandler is a notoriously patchy house for acoustics, and that Wagner himself was not always careful in balancing the voice with the large band. Still, with that apologia comes the avoidable reality that the poorly amplified chorus throughout Act I sounded as though they were singing in the subterranean men’s room. Still, if I have heard this luminous piece better-served instrumentally, I can’t recall when it was.

Of course, the supremely difficult vocal challenges of the title roles can either be legend builders or more often, voice shredders. In any generation we count ourselves lucky to find one duo that can encompass these multi-layered demands. Happily, in LA, the ol’ Helden-Meter tilted decisively to the success side with the committed portrayals and well-paced assumptions by the experienced stage “lovers” of John Treleaven and Linda Watson.

The tenor really has a tougher time of it than the soprano, going from the lengthy ecstatic outpourings of the Love Duet, right into the even lengthier steady crescendo of Act Three’s delirious lament. Mr. Treleaven brought an assured vocal presence, handsome enough demeanor, and tragic bearing to his assignment. If he does not have Ben’s burnished tone, well, small matter, as his rather bright sound was pleasant to listen to, and he could muster enough heft for credible, audible dramatic statements. Not surprisingly, a bit of fatigue crept into his extended death scene, but nonetheless he husbanded his gifts and scored all the major points.

I first heard Linda Watson as DC’s “Bruennhilde” in “Die Walkuere” and my impressions were largely confirmed here. Her “Isolde” was strongly and musically sung with a warm voice of considerable amplitude, marked by a generous vibrato that imbues each phrase with a very womanly presence. She is a major league player in the Isolde Sweepstakes, and her “Liebestod” was memorably delivered.

I did wish that she would not seek to pulverize certain climactic high notes but rather just allow them to ring full out. The extra energy she occasionally invests in these disparate top notes sends them fraying a little, and finds them losing the focused core of the pitch. Too, in the complicated and heated overlapping exchanges of the love duet, the tone at top went a little strident at full tilt. Still, she is understandably numbered among today’s very top interpreters of the Irish Princess, and the audience was unreserved in their appreciation of her outstanding efforts.

Lioba Braun is a singer with a lovely sound, beautiful stage presence, and wonderful musical gifts, but while I really like a little more bite in the tone for “Brangaene,” her “Watch” was exquisitely sung, and a highpoint of her portrayal. Juha Uusitalo offered a rather lackluster account of “Kurwenal” in the first two acts; so much so, that I was unprepared for the searing vocalism he brought to bear in his great scene in Act Three. Suddenly I felt I wanted to hear this artist again in a larger assignment.

Veteran bass Eric Halfvarson brought all of his stage savvy and colossal voice to the small role of “King Marke,” hitting every money moment squarely on target. Gregory Warren was doubled as sweet-voiced “Young Sailor” and “Shepherd.” In his few well-sung phrases as “Melot,” Brian Mulligan displayed a gorgeous baritone and well-schooled (if not quite idiomatic) German.

What to say about Thor Steingraber’s stage direction? Generally speaking, I found the blocking efficient at best, indifferent at worst. The love duet especially is a hard nut to crack. I mean, with the orchestra in full “Geschrei” the two lovers/soloists just simply have to — have to — sing front. And so they did, but in wholly unimaginative placement and movement. There was nothing terribly “wrong” with it. Just nothing “interesting” about it either.

There were compensations: “Brangaene’s” indecision, and subsequent serving up of the love potion was as clearly staged as I have ever seen it, and the end of the “Liebestod” was inspired. Instead of “Isolde” drooping on poor “Tristan” or just fading away, or just standing there (sorry Richard, neither the text nor the music really help much in explicitly defining her as dying of love), here our hero rose from the dead to join the heroine in the icy blue lighting special, put his hands over hers which she had extended in ecstasy, and then enfolded both of them in his loving final embrace. It was a great solution, and one I can recommend to other producers.

Cupid’s arrow may or may not not find its mark this Valentine’s Day, but luckily for me at least, LA Opera’s traversal of “Tristan und Isolde” has almost totally fulfilled my seasonal romantic longings.

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):