Thursday, January 05, 2006

Tristan and Isolde



It is too soon to declare victory, but my Tristan and Isolde DVD from the Munich state opera came today, and I have successfully made it through the first two acts. The best thing about this DVD is the presence of Waltraud Meier in the role of Isolde. With her long flowing red hair and her great beauty she seems actually to be an Irish princess. She also brings a lot of passionate emotion to the role. When King Mark calls her a miraculous woman, we can believe him.


The production is fun. The first act looks like a cruise ship with deck chairs and odd looking wispy clouds that float past. The fatal drinks are in colored plastic glasses with decorated bent straws. Fun. Why not fall in love on a cruise ship? The business about Tristan shaving seems a little forced. He wears shaving cream through the first act. He can't come to talk to Isolde because he's busy shaving.

The tenor on this video is Jon Fredric West, the same tenor who sang Apollo in Daphne at Kennedy Center last year. He is a heldentenor and was the only one of the cast of Daphne capable of blasting over the orchestra in the bad acoustics of the Kennedy Center concert hall. Maybe it's "squillo", but the heldentenor must have a knife-like edge to his voice to cut through the rumble of the orchestra and properly resonate the narrow German vowels.

The second act opens in a red and blue forest, and when Tristan enters, he brings a yellow sofa with pink flowers that looks like it came from Cost Plus or Viking Trader. It would help if they looked like they were in love.

I think I will make it all the way to the end, and may acquire enough curiosity about the music to want to hear parts of it with other voices, but I don't think I will ever overcome the fact that I don't really care for this lugubrious music with its complete lack of any square corners. I tried to think of a way to say this, and that's all I came up with. I don't experience the unresolved tension; for me it's simply shapeless.

Part II

Now suddenly it's the third act and the set is tan and barren with a slide show of unknown people playing on the back wall. How annoying. We're doing two operas, apparently: Deck chairs and bright colors for falling in love, black and tan for tragedy and death.

Would I recommend this to anyone? Not really. It is lovely to see Waltraud Meier, and she also sings well. But I don't think I enjoy listening to Jon Fredric West. As the opera goes on, his part gets bigger and bigger. Maybe that's why I never make it to the end.

Victory! Isolde when she comes is worth the wait. The Liebestod, filmed entirely in close-up, is marvelous, and she is truly gorgeous. Kurt Moll as the King is also very moving and intense. Maybe you could rent it from Netflix.

In the bows at the end of this opera the entire orchestra came up onto the stage together with the conductor, Zubin Mehta, to take a bow. I cannot recall ever seeing this before.

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