16 Mar 2008
Tristan und Isolde — The Metropolitan Opera
I bet this doesn't happen at the movies:
Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.
It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)
I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.
As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.
A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage
‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.
Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high.
The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.
When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.
Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.
The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.
There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.
The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.
First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.
Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.
With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.
Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.
Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).
What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.
So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.
I bet this doesn't happen at the movies:
As the flick begins, they announce that Matt Damon has a virus and had to leave; he's being replaced by someone who's never done the part before. But it's okay. Then, halfway through, Gwyneth Paltrow (the star) goes running off-screen, leaving the guy hanging in mid love scene. After a moment, the screen goes dark (but not before you saw the panic in his eyes). Pause. Then they announce Miss Paltrow is ill, and will be replaced by (name you never heard of). She wears the same dress and wig but doesn't look anything like her. She takes a while to warm up, but hey, Daniel Day-Lewis walks off with the character part anyway. (As you expected.) Somehow the kid gets through the big final scene, and the girl takes the climax. Thundering ovation. You never had that happen to you at the movies, did you? (Low class bastards.)
At the Met tonight, Tristan und Isolde. Rumors of doom had been circulating since the disastrous prima on Monday. Ben Heppner, virused up, has run back to Canada. (He's been cracking on all his high notes anyway.) The tenor who replaced him Monday was so bad, he was booed off the stage. (Ugly too, they tell me.) So tonight they found some kid who'd never sung Tristan before. Gary Lehman (this is a heldentenor?) We're all very hopeful. (Besides, Matti Salminen is King Marke, and bound to be a hit.) Peter Gelb, announcing the change, looks like he has veins of ice water and this happens all the time. The kid is tall, well built, looks like Errol Flynn, sings okay, acts okay, keeps an eye fixed on Jimmy. Then, halfway through the love duet in Act II, Debbie Voigt runs off stage. To get a drink of water I presumed. The tenor just sort of stands there, singing ardently to a blank stage, Jimmy keeps conducting ... the curtain comes down. Pause. Someone (not Gelb) comes out to say: Don't leave the room, Debbie's sick, some soprano no one has heard of (Janice Baird, and she IS on the roster) is getting dressed and will take over.
Of course she hasn't had time (much less a whole act) to warm up, but anyway: At last we get the duet again (which means the poor Tristan will be singing more of the opera in one night than ANYONE EVER HAS). Isolde finally warms up by the climax. Matti Salminen walks off with it, as I knew he would. In the intermission, my friend La Cieca (opera columnist a l'outrance, see www.parterre.com) says, "I'm speechless." I said, "Don't tell me we'll have to replace you too!" Well, Lehman sings Act III, the toughest workout for tenor ever composed. Doesn't sound fabulous, but he's okay. No cracked high notes. Isolde rushes in clumsily (she's never rehearsed), sings Liebestod. She's okay. Silence to the last chord.
Chaos: Standing ovation for the pair, then for the whole cast, then for Jimmy. It's 1 a.m. and nobody wants to leave without screaming. Nobody wanted to have been, for those six hours, anywhere else in the world.
I bet you've never been at a movie where this happened.