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

Halévy’s Magnificent La reine de Chypre (1841) Gets Its Long-Awaited World Premiere Recording

Halévy’s La reine de Chypre (The Queen of Cyprus) is the 17th opera to be released in the impressively prolific “French Opera” series of recordings produced by the Center for French Romantic Music, a scholarly organization located at the Palazzetto Bru Zane in Venice. (Other recent offerings have included Saint-Saëns’s richly characterized Proserpine, Benjamin Godard’s fascinating Dante--which contains scenes set in Heaven and Hell--and Hérold’s Le pré aux clercs, an opéra-comique that had a particularly long life in the international operatic repertoire.)

Moshinsky's Simon Boccanegra returns to Covent Garden

Despite the flaming torches of the plebeian plotters which, in the Prologue, etched chiaroscuro omens within the Palladian porticos of Michael Yeargan’s imposing and impressive set, this was a rather slow-burn revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s 1991 production of Simon Boccanegra.

Royal Academy's Semele offers 'endless pleasures'

Self-adoring ‘celebrities’ beware. That smart-phone which feeds your narcissism might just prove your nemesis.

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

Bampton Classical Opera to perform Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors

Gian Carlo Menotti’s much-loved Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors was commissioned in America by the National Broadcasting Company and was broadcast in 1951 - the first-ever opera composed specifically for television. Menotti said that it “is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood”.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

This recording on the Gimell label, the seventh of nine in a series by the Tallis Scholars which will document Josquin des Prés’ settings of the Mass (several of these and other settings are of disputed authorship), might be titled ‘Sacred and Profane’, or ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

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):