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

Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger commemorated at the Proms

Two French commemorations - ‘anniversaries’ always seems the wrong word - and surely is - here: the centenary of the deaths of Claude Debussy and Lili Boulanger.

Pique Dame in Salzburg

It was emeritus night at the Salzburg Festival with 75 year old maestro Mariss Jansons conducting 77 year old stage director Hans Neuenfels production about Pushkin’s 87 year old countess known as the Pique Dame.

Lohengrin at Bayreuth

Three electrifying moments and the world is forever changed.

Salome in Salzburg

A Romeo Castellucci production is always news, it is even bigger news just now in Salzburg where Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian has made her debut as the fifteen year-old Salome.

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

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):