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 Reviews

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

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.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

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.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

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.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘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.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

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. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

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.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

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.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

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.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

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.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

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.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

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

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.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

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.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

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).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

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’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

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.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Deborah Voigt and Clifton Forbis sing the title roles in <em>Tristan und Isolde</em> [Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago]
08 Mar 2009

Tristan und Isolde in Chicago

By the close of the first act of Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in its current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience has been given a strong impression of the multi-faceted characters bound up in the musical drama unfolding on stage.

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Isolde: Deborah Voigt; Tristan: Clifton Forbis; Brangäne: Petra Lang; Kurwenal: Jason Stearns (Jan. 27-Feb. 8), Greer Grimsley (Feb. 12-28); Marke: Stephen Milling. Lyric Opera of Chicago. Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis. Director: José María Condemi.

Above: Deborah Voigt and Clifton Forbis sing the title roles in Tristan und Isolde [Photo by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago]

 

As the principals in this production Deborah Voigt and Clifton Forbis give, at once, convincing and moving performances, their interpretations each pitting an inner struggle of boundless love against the conventions of the medieval court and its surroundings. Ms. Voigt succeeds admirably in creating a vocal and dramatic transformation from the offended, captive bride to the eager lover in a forbidden relationship. Petra Lang’s Brangäne is vocally resplendent, while her dramatic approach suggests a unified personality throughout the work. The Kurwenal of Jason Stearns gains in intensity as the character moves from serving to caring for his injured lord. The impression given by Stephan Milling as King Marke, appearing on stage just moments before the final chords of Act I, establishes a commanding presence whose authority will be enforced in the following scenes of the opera.

During the prelude to the opera a soft light shines upon a blue scrim bearing the names of the lovers. This attention to the beauty of the ill-fated tragic love is matched by dissonances subtley woven into the lush orchestral playing under the direction of Sir Andrew Davis. As the scrim rises on the opening scene aboard Marke’s ship anticipation is immediately evident in the interaction of characters expecting to approach Cornwall by the end of the day. Isolde is awakened from her sleep by the song of a young sailor , which she interprets as mocking her with the words “irische Maid.” Ms. Voigt uses this opening as a touchstone to launch into her expressive irritation, during which her voice carries a restrained yet evident harshness because of her current position as a bride en route to Marke. Brangäne is sent several times to summon Tristan for a verbal reckoning with her lady, yet he refuses to leave his position at the helm. Here the gestures and dignified control used by Mr. Forbis underline the formality that Tristan chooses to emphasize in service to King Marke.

As the character both moving between and hoping to establish communication among the principals Brangäne’s tone is, at this point in the scene, especially variable. Ms. Lang modulates her voice here effectively in order to indicate these significant shifts. She relays, at once, the demands of Isolde to Curwenal and to Tristan as well as her frustrations because the men refuse a direct interview with Marke’s future queen. It is noteworthy that tensions growing during the course of the act are justly framed by the combination of sets and costumes originally designed in 1987 by David Hockney for the Los Angeles Opera. The stylization of the stage sets contrasts with the quasi-medieval realism of the costumes, in effect lending a mythical yet believable tone to the drama. At this point, the nuanced vocal performance by Ms. Lang illustrates especially the effect of this synthesis in Hockney’s scenic and costume designs. Whereas Lang’s monochromatic facial expression matches the costume fitting into a pictorial frame, her Brangäne demonstrates a vast spectrum of vocal expression, from her pleading with Tristan “Höre wohl: deine Dienste will die Frau,” [“Listen well: the lady desires your attentions”] to the impassioned high notes of “Weh, ach wehe! dies zu dulden!”[“O, woe! To have to endure this!”], as she delivers her answer to Isolde. In her memorable characterization Lang affirms the position of Brangäne not only as companion but also as a voice of encouragement and advice.

In response to the fruitless efforts for an interview as rebuffed by Tristan, Isolde elaborates now to Brangäne the background of her frustration. As one of the dramatic highlights of Act I, Ms. Voigt unleashes a searing account of her earlier humiliation (“Schmach,” as repeatedly intoned) by Tristan. Although he had killed her betrothed Morolt in a duel, Tristan’s wounds forced him to return to Ireland to be healed by the skills of the princess. When she recognized the patient whom she was tending, Isolde relates how she could not bring herself to wield Tristan’s sword and kill him in vengeance. In Voigt’s interpretation, the bitter resignation of recalling her “Schmach” increases during the monologue and reaches a crescendo as she declares with great emotion “Nun dien ich dem Vasallen!” [“Now I remain in service to the vasall!”]. Voigt’s curses leveled soon after in this scene are an especially powerful evocation of Isolde’s anger and her emotional excitedness while traveling under Tristan’s protection to Cornwall. At Brangäne’s suggestion that a love potion, provided by Isolde’s mother, be used to foster an emotional relationship between Marke and his bride, Isolde’s response shows her attempt to settle the past. Her words, are marked to be sung “düster,” with ominous notes, as she clearly chooses the flask with poison — which she proposes to share with Tristan — rather than a filtre for love. Voigt projects a noticeable tone of foreboding, as she intones the words “Den Schrein dort bring mir her!” [“That chest you must bring to me!”]. Soon afterward Tristan answers the repeated request that he approach Isolde: their heated exchange culminates in Tristan’s offer that she slay him with that very sword which she refused to use once before. At Isolde’s suggestion that they share a draught of reconciliation, Brangäne prepares the potion. Voigt’s gestures of impatience to her companion propel the dialogue with Tristan to a climactic assent of “Sühne” [“reconciliation”]. During this scene Mr. Forbis invests the persona of Tristan with a controlled sense of dignity while allowing for as broad a range of respect as possible in countering Isolde’s demands. Both characters display a credible transformation after they drink from the potion of love substituted by Brangäne. As Voigt and Forbis at first avoid each other’s glance, then reach hesitatingly to clutch the partner’s hand, their voices soften to express the love that will henceforth affect their worldly existence. Their incorrigible embraces can be separated now, and in the following act, only by the approach of King Marke.

It is in the second act that the full implications of the lovers’ transformation is explored. The emotional peak of this love is placed as the middle of three scenes, in which the dramatic and emotional action is neatly distributed among a varying constellation of participants. In the first of these scenes Isolde and Brangäne await Tristan in a tree-lined garden; Isolde dismisses the warnings of Brangäne that Melot, an alleged friend of Tristan, will betray the secret love to King Marke. Here Isolde emphasizes the power of love personified as she yearns for the cover of night. Voigt’s commands to ignore any danger and to extinguish the torch, while ordering Brangäne to a position of watch, elicit thrilling dramatic notes which effectively pierce the summer night’s air. In the middle scene, soon after Isolde hurls the illuminating torch to the ground, Tristan enters and the lovers are enveloped in repeated physical as well as vocal embraces. Voigt and Forbis share and echo phrases, while modulating the poetic lines, so that their extended love duet enhances their emotional unity from the standpoint of both their words and the lyrical projection of their feelings. During this duet Ms. Lang’s extended warnings of “Habet Acht” show exquisite control of phrasing as her voice is heard above the orchestra. Yet these warnings, and those of Kurwenal, remain unheeded as King Marke enters together with Melot at the start of the third scene. Marke’s disbelief now shifts to a recitation of Tristan’s betrayal, as he finds his queen and his friendship for Tristan thus compromised. Stephen Milling’s Marke is a wonder of vocal delivery. His expressive bass emits a depth of feeling which causes all those accused to look away in shame. The dignity of meaning projected by Milling into the monologue of Marke is emphasized by his diction and the arching structure given to individual lines. Yet the love of Tristan and Isolde transcends the censure of the court, and Isolde agrees to follow Tristan into exile. Only an attack by Melot, and his wounding of Tristan at the close of the act, prevent the ecstatic love from continuing its uninterrupted path.

In the final act sadness and longing pervade the two major parts. In the first of these Tristan, sickened by his wounds, reflects on the course of events, on his shattered loyalties to Marke, and his unending desire to be reunited with Isolde. Mr. Forbis invests his Tristan with a credible pathos, giving vent to the character’s delirium while retaining the hope that Isolde will yet appear to share his exile. When the ship from Cornwall does arrive, and Isolde is allowed to embrace him in love, Tristan dies within moments. Marke’s presence, the King having journeyed separately with his entourage, can do nothing to remedy the inevitable path of emotions. Isolde’s final “Liebestod,” sung by Voigt as one transfigured through love and prepared for a union only in death, brings full circle the love so movingly sustained from its earlier narrative start and its foreshadowing in the overture.

Salvatore Calomino

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):