Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Arabella in San Francisco

A great big guy in a great big fur coat falls in love with the photo of the worldly daughter of a compulsive gambler. A great big conductor promotes the maelstrom of great big music that shepherds all this to ecstatic conclusion.

Two falls out of three for Britten in Seattle Screw

The miasma of doom that pervades the air of the great house of Bly seems to seep slowly into the auditorium, dulling the senses, weighing down the mind. What evil lurks here? Can these people be saved? Do we care?

New Hans Zender Schubert Winterreise - Julian Prégardien

Hans Zender's Schuberts Winterreise is now established in the canon, but this recording with Julian Prégardien and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie conducted by Robert Reimer is one of the most striking. Proof that new work, like good wine, needs to settle and mature to reveal its riches.

Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Ten years ago, I saw one of the first performances of Pascal Dusapin’s Passion at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Now, Music Theatre Wales and National Dance Company Wales give the opera its first United Kingdom production - in an English translation by Amanda Holden from the original Italian: the first time, I believe, that a Dusapin opera has been performed in translation. (I shall admit to a slight disappointment that it was not in Welsh: maybe next time.)

Tosca in San Francisco

The story was bigger than its actors, the Tosca ritual was ignored. It wasn’t a Tosca for the ages though maybe it was (San Francisco’s previous Tosca production hung around for 95 years). P.S. It was an evening of powerful theater, and incidentally it was really good opera.

Fine performances in uneven War Requiem at the Concertgebouw

At the very least, that vehement, pacifist indictment against militarism, Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, should leave the audience shaking a little. This performance by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra only partially succeeded in doing so. The cast credits raised the highest expectations, but Gianandrea Noseda, stepping in for an ailing Mariss Jansons and conducting the RCO for the first time, did not bring out the full potential at his disposal.

The Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

In their typical non-emphatic way, the Tallis Scholars under Peter Phillips presented here a selection of English sacred music from the Eton Choirbook to Tallis. There was little to ruffle anyone’s feathers here, little in the way of overt ‘interpretation’ – certainly in a modern sense – but ample opportunity to appreciate the mastery on offer in this music, its remoteness from many of our present concerns, and some fine singing.

Dido and Aeneas: Academy of Ancient Music

“Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.” Well, the spectral Queen of Carthage atop the poppy-strewn sarcophagus wasn’t quite yet “laid in earth”, but the act of remembering, and remembrance, duly began during the first part of this final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s Purcell trilogy at the Barbican Hall.

Poignantly human – Die Zauberflöte, La Monnaie

Mozart Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) at La Monnaie /De Munt, Brussels, conducted by Antonello Manacorda, directed by Romeo Castellucci. Part allegory, part Singspeile, and very much a morality play, Die Zauberflöte is not conventional opera in the late 19th century style. Naturalist realism is not what it's meant to be. Cryptic is closer to what it might mean.

Covent Garden: Wagner’s Siegfried, magnificent but elusive

How do you begin to assess Covent Garden’s Siegfried? From a purely vocal point of view, this was a magnificent evening; it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that this was as fine a cast as you are likely to hear anywhere today.

Powerful Monodramas: Zender, Manoury and Schoenberg

The concept of the monologue in opera has existed since the birth of opera itself, but when we come to monodramas - with the exception of Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) - we are looking at something that originated at the beginning of the twentieth century.

ENO's Salome both intrigues and bewilders

Femme fatale, femme nouvelle, she-devil: the personification of patriarchal castration-anxiety and misogynistic terror of female desire.

In the Company of Heaven: The Cardinall's Musick at Wigmore Hall

Palestrina led from the front, literally and figuratively, in this performance at Wigmore Hall which placed devotion to the saints at its heart, with Saints Peter, Paul, Catherine of Alexandria, Bartholomew and the Virgin Mary all musically honoured by The Cardinall’s Musick and their director Andrew Carwood.

Roberto Devereux in San Francisco

Opera’s triple crown, Donizetti’s tragic queens — Anna Bolena who was beheaded by her husband Henry VIII, their daughter Elizabeth I who beheaded her rival Mary, Queen of Scots and who executed her lover Roberto Devereux.

O18: Queens Tries Royally Hard

Opera Philadelphia is lightening up the fare at its annual festival with a three evening cabaret series in the Theatre of Living Arts, Queens of the Night.

O18 Magical Mystery Tour: Glass Handel

How to begin to quantify the wonderment stirred in my soul by Opera Philadelphia’s sensational achievement that is Glass Handel?

Magic Lantern Tales: darkness, disorientation and delight from Cheryl Frances-Hoad

“It produces Effects not only very delightful, but to such as know the contrivance, very wonderful; so that Spectators, not well versed in Opticks, that could see the various Apparitions and Disappearances, the Motions, Changes and Actions, that may this way be presented, would readily believe them super-natural and miraculous.”

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

O18: Mad About Lucia

Opera Philadelphia has mounted as gripping and musically ravishing an account of Lucia di Lammermoor as is imaginable.

O18 Poulenc Evening: Moins C’est Plus

In Opera Philadelphia’s re-imagined La voix humaine, diva Patricia Racette had a tough “act” to follow ...

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Christof Loy [Photo courtesy of Christof Loy and Royal Opera House]
06 Sep 2009

Christof Loy speaks about the new Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, London.

“Opera has so much to give” says Christof Loy, whose new production of Tristan und Isoldeopens at the Royal Opera House on 29th September. This opera is so familiar that everyone assumes they know it. But Loy’s approach involves going straight back to the score, and to the inherent drama in the music. “I don’t like superficial distractions".

Christof Loy speaks about the new Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, London.

Above: Christof Loy [Photo courtesy of Christof Loy and Royal Opera House]

 

This unflinching focus on the music can be shocking. Loy’s recent production of Lulu allowed the maze-like intricacies of Berg’s music to shine while also capturing the disturbing spirit. As Schilgolch says, when he steps on the polished marble in Lulu’s mansion, “Someone could get hurt around here”. What will Loy make of *Tristan und Isolde? *

Perhaps his secret is that he goes back to the soul of the drama. Understanding the roles and how they interact is part of the process. When we met, Loy was still in the early stages of rehearsal, working from the piano, with the singers and conductor, Antonio Pappano. “It is wonderful to be doing this with Nina Stemme, who has sung Isolde so many times. She’s so close to Isolde’s rich personality” Loy and Stemme have enjoyed a good relationship for many years, so working together is a pleasure.

“She understands so much”,he adds, “She knows what I mean when I talk about this opera as chamber-like. There are moments when the music explodes, boiling over with intense emotion. We all have habits and assumptions we don’t even notice we are carrying, but when you study the score carefully, there’s so much stillness, so much delicacy. There are habits we all have without even realizing it, so Sometimes I feel like a policeman, holding things back, saying Attention ! Stop and listen to the quieter parts in the music and hear them carefully. Don’t get too intense too early ! But Nina knows what I mean when I talk about the dangers of rushing in with the wrong kind of heroics, and together we discover more things about the parts”. Loy mentions the recording of Kirsten Flagstad, singing Isolde at Covent Garden in the 1930’s. “She is so fresh, so lyrical, she sings with so much tenderness”.

“There is a tradition of hearing Tristan und Isolde as some kind of Teutonic Romeo and Juliet, and simply portraying them as an unhappy couple in love, thwarted by the world around them. But in the music there is so much more”. The story in this opera starts long before the curtain rises. That’s why the First Act involves so much discussion of Isolde’s past and her motives for wanting revenge. Similarly, Marke’s long monologue fills in background. The action, as such, is in the characters. Thus it’s astute that Loy’s approach has come through understanding what motivates the characters and why they think and act the way they do. “They are like family to me now”, he laughs.

“These are fragile people”, he adds. “And fragile people often hide behind an emotional wall to hide their deepest feelings”. Tristan in particular is a much more complex person than his surface heroism might indicate. “He is an extremely damaged person, carrying so much guilt. His father died after begetting him, his mother died giving him birth, and he breaks his uncle’s heart. ‘Zu welchem Los erkoren, ich damals wohl geboren?’”

“So Tristan feels unworthy, but like so many macho men, he builds up an action hero image which has nothing to do with what he feels inside. He cannot express himself, he hides behind an emotional coat of armour”. To the world he may be “der Helden ohne Gleiche” but Isolde, ever sharp, sees him cowering, “in Scham und Scheue”.

Yet when Marke wants to reward him by making him his heir, it’s Tristan who demands that Marke marry a woman who may give him children. It’s not what Marke wants, but Tristan forces him. Tristan rejects the life Marke offers him, already self destructive. When he sees Isolde, he offers her his own sword, that she may kill him.

“Tristan probably has never had anyone to confide in. But Isolde has no problems at all expressing herself, even though Brängäne can’t keep up. She’s so direct.” ” All that night and day imagery, it’s as though Isolde no longer wants to hide.” So it starts Tristan him opening up, though it’s only when he knows he’s finally about to die that he makes full confession. So it’s so tragic that then he only has Kurnewal around, who doesn’t understand.”

Studying the score, Loy was struck by what it revealed about how relationships grow. “They are so used to being alone that it is quite a shock to them that they’re in love, and that they are loved in return. Throughout the opera there are references to things that aren’t necessarily what they first seem. “So Tristan asks Isolde if she will follow him, he talks about the bed on which he was born and on which his mother died, “das Wunderreich der Nacht”. But she assumes he means he’s going back to his estates, “dein Erbe mir zu ziegen”. “Wagner is extremely clear on many details,” says Loy, “but on some things he’s more subtle.” So I asked Loy about certain aspects of the libretto that I’ve wondered about in the past, like what actually goes on in the Liebestod. He smiled enigmatically, and said “Read the libretto”. In the Liebestod, Isolde is completely convinced that Tristan is alive and breathing, surprised that others can’t see him smile or hear the “melody” that arises from his body. What is the nature of that transfiguring “höchste Lust “?

Christof Loy was awarded the “Musikpreis der Stadt Duisburg” in 2001, for his London staging of Ariadne auf Naxos he was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award, and in 2003 and 2004 he was named Director of the Year by the critics of the periodical Opernwelt. In 2008, he was awarded with the “Faust”-Theaterpreis. In the near future his opera engagements will take him to the Theater an der Wien (Prinz von Homburg), Stockholm (Ballo in maschera), Amsterdam (Les Vêpres siciliennes), as well as to Geneva (Donna del Lago and Lustige Witwe) and Aix-en-Provence (Alceste). Recent works include: Lucrezia Borgia (Munich), Theodora (Salzburg Festspiele) and Lulu (Royal Opera House).

Anne Ozorio

“Tristan und Isolde” opens at the Royal Opera House, London on 29th September and runs until 18th October. Nina Stemme sings Isolde, Ben Heppner Tristan, John Tomlinson King Marke, Michael Volle Kurnewal, Sophie Koch Brangäne. Please see http://www.roh.org.uk/whatson/production.aspx?pid=9989

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):