Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Classical Opera/The Mozartists celebrate 20 years of music-making

Classical Opera celebrated 20 years of music-making and story-telling with a characteristically ambitious and eclectic sequence of musical works at the Barbican Hall. Themes of creation and renewal were to the fore, and after a first half comprising a variety of vocal works and short poems, ‘Classical Opera’ were succeeded by their complementary alter ego, ‘The Mozartists’, in the second part of the concert for a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony - a work described by Page as ‘in many ways the most iconic work in the repertoire’.

Back to Baroque and to the battle lines with English Touring Opera

Romeo and Juliet, Rinaldo and Armida, Ramadès and Aida: love thwarted by warring countries and families is a perennial trope of literature, myth and history. Indeed, ‘Love and war are all one,’ declared Miguel de Cervantes in Don Quixote, a sentiment which seems to be particularly exemplified by the world of baroque opera with its penchant for plundering Classical Greek and Roman myths for their extreme passions and conflicts. English Touring Opera’s 2017 autumn tour takes us back to the Baroque and back to the battle-lines.

Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice opened the 2017–18 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Michelle DeYoung, Mahler Symphony no 3 London

The Third Coming ! Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler Symphony no 3 with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall with Michelle DeYoung, the Philharmonia Voices and the Tiffin Boys’ Choir. It was live streamed worldwide, an indication of just how important this concert was, for it marks the Philharmonia's 34-year relationship with Salonen.

King Arthur at the Barbican: a semi-opera for the 'Brexit Age'

Purcell’s and Dryden’s King Arthur: or the British Worthy presents ‘problems’ for directors. It began life as a propaganda piece, Albion and Albanius, in 1683, during the reign of Charles II, but did not appear on stage as King Arthur until 1691 when William of Orange had ascended to the British Throne to rule as William III alongside his wife Mary and the political climate had changed significantly.

Anne Schwanewilms sings Schreker, Schubert, Liszt and Korngold

On a day when events in Las Vegas cast a shadow over much of the news this was not the most comfortable recital to sit through for many reasons. The chosen repertoire did, at times, feel unduly heavy - and very Germanic - but it was also unevenly sung.

The Life to Come: a new opera by Louis Mander and Stephen Fry

It began ‘with a purely obscene fancy of a Missionary in difficulties’. So E.M. Forster wrote to Siegfried Sassoon in August 1923, of his short story ‘The Life to Come’ - the title story of a collection that was not published until 1972, two years after Forster’s death.

Aida opens the season at ENO

Director Phelim McDermott’s new Aida at ENO seems to have been conceived more in terms of what it will look like rather than what the opera is or might be ‘about’. And, it certainly does look good. Designer Tom Pye - with whom McDermott worked for ENO’s Akhnaten last year (alongside his other Improbable company colleague, costume designer Kevin Pollard) - has again conjured striking tableaux and eye-catching motifs, and a colour scheme which balances sumptuous richness with shadow and mystery.

La Traviata in San Francisco

A beautifully sung Traviata in British stage director John Copley’s 1987 production, begging the question is this grand old (30 years) production the SFO mise en scène for all times.

The Judas Passion: Sally Beamish and David Harsent offer new perspectives

Was Judas a man ‘both vile and justifiably despised: an agent of the Devil, or a man who God-given task was to set in train an event that would be the salvation of Humankind’? This is the question at the heart of Sally Beamish’s The Judas Passion, commissioned jointly by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco.

Choral at Cadogan: The Tallis Scholars open a new season

As The Tallis Scholars processed onto the Cadogan Hall platform, for the opening concert of this season’s Choral at Cadogan series, there were some unfamiliar faces among its ten members - or faces familiar but more usually seen in other contexts.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2017, Millennium Park, Chicago

As a prelude to the 2017-18 season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its annual concert, Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, during the last weekend. A number of those who performed in this event will be featured in roles during the coming season.

Die Zauberflöte at the ROH: radiant and eternal

Watching David McVicar’s 2003 production of Die Zauberflöte at the Royal Opera House - its sixth revival - for the third time, I was struck by how discerningly John MacFarlane’s sumptuous designs, further enhanced by Paule Constable’s superbly evocative lighting, communicate the dense and rich symbolism of Mozart’s Singspiel.

Fantasy in Philadelphia: The Wake World

Composer and librettist David Hertzberg’s magical mystery tour that is The Wake World opened to a cheering sold out audience that was clearly enraptured with its magnificent artistic achievement.

A Mysterious Lucia at Forest Lawn

On September 10, 2017, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a beautiful outdoor setting at Forest Lawn. POP audiences enjoy casual seating with wine, water, and finger foods at each table. General and Artistic Director Josh Shaw greeted patrons in a “blood stained” white wedding suit. Since Lucia is a Scottish opera, it opened with an elegant bagpipe solo calling members of the audience to their seats.

This is Rattle: Blazing Berlioz at the Barbican Hall

Blazing Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust at the Barbican with Sir Simon Rattle, Bryan Hymel, Christopher Purves, Karen Cargill, Gabor Bretz, The London Symphony Orchestra and The London Symphony Chorus directed by Simon Halsey, Rattle's chorus master of choice for nearly 35 years. Towards the end, the Tiffin Boys' Choir, the Tiffin Girls' Choir and Tiffin Children's Choir (choirmaster James Day) filed into the darkened auditorium to sing The Apotheosis of Marguerite, their voices pure and angelic, their faces shining. An astonishingly theatrical touch, but absolutely right.

Moved Takes on Philadelphia Headlines

There‘s a powerful new force in the opera world and its name is O17.

Philly Flute’s Fast and Furious Frills

If you never thought opera could make your eyes cross with visual sensory over load, you never saw Opera Philadelphia’s razzle-dazzle The Magic Flute.

At War With Philadelphia

Enterprising Opera Philadelphia has included a couple of intriguing site-specific events in their O17 Festival line-up.

The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall

Three years into their MOZART 250 project, Classical Opera have launched a new venture, The Mozartists, which is designed to allow the company to broaden its exploration of the concert and symphonic works of Mozart and his contemporaries.

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):