Tag: René Pape

Love in the Cargo Bay: Tristan und Isolde, Metropolitan Opera 10-3-16

So I had the opportunity to see the Met’s new Tristan und Isolde on Monday night. This is only the second time I’ve seen this opera live – or, rather, it’s sort of the first-and-two-thirds time, because the first time I went to see it, in Vienna, I misapprehended the schedule, arrived late, and was directed to the Opera Detention Area where I had to wait and watch Act I on a video feed until the intermission.

This production by Mariusz Treliński is grim. It opens with projection animation, a repeatedly inscribed glowing green circle on a black background – like radar or sonar on a ship – and through this we see, in reversed black and white, film-negative-style, crashing waves and the prow of a warship. Tristan and Isolde are on a modern military ship, with low gray rooms, outfitted in metal, and a very clangy metal staircase to one side. Tristan can see Isolde and Brangäne via a video feed projected onto the wall of the control center that makes up the uppermost level. There is a consistent feel of descending into ever darker levels as the story unfolds – when Tristan finally agrees to go and talk to Isolde in Act I, they go downstairs to the very belly of the ship; in Act II, they meet almost outdoors, in an observation area, but soon go down again, into the cargo hold (it is a cargo hold – there is cargo, even, and King Marke makes his entrance through the rear doors in a cloud of light and vapor; the effect is somewhere between Das Boot and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and in Act III, Tristan awaits death and Isolde in a dark, cavernous hospital room. Sometimes the stage disappears behind the animation – in Act II, as Brangäne (Ekaterina Gubanova) warns the two of danger, we see rushing clouds, and ultimately the (often repeated) image of a solar eclipse.

Act III, which depends on Tristan being excellent by himself for about an hour and which can thus go wrong quite easily, is broken up visually by a move from the black hospital room into a burned-out hut as Tristan muses about his past. This part can drag on under some circumstances – we want Isolde to show up almost as much as Tristan does – but in this case it doesn’t, because Stuart Skelton is so consistently good. I have listened to recordings of this opera and felt, by Act III or so, that I had had rather enough of tenors in distress for one evening, but this was emphatically not the case on Monday night. Nina Stemme was also very satisfying as Isolde. It’s interesting hearing this opera live as opposed to on CD – on recordings, the voices are often placed a little bit more forward; in a live performance, even a big voice like Stemme’s gets drawn into the orchestral music at climactic moments, which I find I don’t mind. The show was stolen by René Pape as King Marke, however. His long soliloquy in Act II had a dramatic force that stood out from everything else I heard that evening. The Met’s orchestra with Simon Rattle also outdid itself – the wrenching musical tension in the score was vividly expressed. Rattle held the final chord longer than I expected, but very effectively. (And no one interrupted with premature applause!).

Still more Tristan und Isolde

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It’s apparently also a staging convention for this opera that the role of King Marke is sung by René Pape. I can’t say that I mind. But the big draw for me in this case was Nina Stemme as Isolde. Stemme’s Isolde is mildly terrifying in Act I – Isolde’s combination of impassivity and intensity makes the character seem “off” in a way that feels perfectly correct: one is not surprised to find that this is a woman whose go-to solution in a tricky interpersonal situation is DEATH FOR US BOTH. (Also, at one point, she administers a good kick to Katarina Karnéus’s rather cringy Brangäne, who just might deserve it. I liked Dalayman in the Met’s production better in this role; she had a little more force and dignity. But Karnéus doesn’t sound bad. There are moments in both Act I and particularly in Act II when Brangäne is off stage ringing the changes on “beware!” where the sound is luminous and pretty.)

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More Tristan und Isolde

Tristan_the WhorlThis production from Glyndebourne of Tristan und Isolde resembles the last one that I saw in that the visuals are simple. Which makes sense; this does not strike me as an opera that would work well with a lot of visual clutter in it. (Having lots of stage clutter is often linked with humor, isn’t it? I’m thinking particularly of Doris Dörrie’s Cosí fan tutte which was great fun but sort of exhausting at times. Or in other cases – a certain much-googled DVD of Handel’s Alcina comes to mind – it’s less humor than a kind of directorial ADHD.) But to return to Wagner, there is even less in the way of stuff on stage here than there was in that Met version, even though the lighting and general general setup of the Met’s version felt more spacious than this.

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Wagner – Parsifal / Metropolitan Opera 3-8-13

I watched and listened to this from a spot that I had never sat in before, the very rear of the orchestra section. Like, literally, the last row. Every time I go to the Met I am re-impressed by the sound: I have never ended up in a spot in that hall where I had trouble seeing or hearing. And what I saw and heard last night was well worth splashing through the slush for.

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Beethoven – Fidelio / Heppner, Mattila, Pape / Metropolitan Opera 2002 (3)

(Previous section here.)

So what does this sound like? I enjoyed Karita Mattila’s performance as Leonore – her voice here has a weight to it that contrasts very nicely with that of Jennifer Welch-Babidge as Marzelline. The latter sounded a little fluttery early in Act I, but by the first quartet she has warmed up and the sound is very pleasant. René Pape is not used to full advantage as Rocco – I know Pape can bring the big guns both vocally and in terms of acting and this role doesn’t quite give him the chance to do that. Ben Heppner as Florestan was appropriately heroic-sounding. The men’s chorus has some stirring moments during Act I – there’s some really nice chorus/orchestra interplay here (I noticed it during “O welche Lust”). Finally, remember that production of Mary Stuart from Houston a while back? The tenor singing Leicester in that instance, Eric Cutler, appears here as the First Prisoner. I don’t have much to say because he doesn’t have much to sing, but – well, there you are. I guess there really aren’t that many opera singers in the world, are there?

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Don Carlos / Bayerische Staatsoper 1-22-12

I wanted to see this because I will hear Verdi’s Don Carlos (Don Carlo when it’s in French) any chance I can get but also because the Elisabeth in this production is Anja Harteros. When I saw the DVD of Harteros as Alcina one of the aspects of that performance that struck me was those lovely high floated pianissimos. And Elisabeth is a role that contains a lot of high ethereal pianissimos.

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I am NOT Sam the Eagle.

Sometimes I have a look at the statistics on all the random stuff I post on YouTube. It occasionally surprises me what gets the most views. For example, this video of part of a gala concert from Berlin in 1997 beats all my other clips hands down. It’s Roeschmann and René Pape singing ‘la ci darem la mano’ from Don Giovanni. As I said, this is less a recital or a concert than a festive occasion (there is a magician mingling with the audience) and musically, this is the heaviest-weight item on the program.

This is not actually a piece that I go looking for concert versions of. I’ve seen it turn silly or schlocky too many times, and in terms of the music, I’m happier to hear it within the context of an actual recording or performance. But this version is fun. Sort of sweet. (Comment by friend looking over my shoulder as I was watching this: “What’s his problem?” Me: “He’s Don Giovanni. Shush.” Friend: “I think I had that dress back in high school.” Me: “Shhhh.” Friend: “She looks . . . . squirrelly.” Me: “Philistine.”)

That friend later sent me this, a reference which anyone who was a child in the 80s will probably understand: