Tag: Stemme

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!).

Strauss: Elektra / Met Opera 4-23-16


I have been to not one but two live performances of Strauss’s Elektra in the past six months or so. Each time, I come out of it feeling stunned and unable to articulate any particular opinion about the performance. But stunned is good. And sometimes the opinions trickle in later on. (I think part of it might be Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s fault – I find that operas for which he has written the libretto take me a while to absorb, because I keep getting distracted by the quality of the text and occasionally miss music that I have to catch the next time around.)

When I glanced at the program last night, I was startled – the casting for this was pretty much incredible: Nina Stemme (Elektra), Adrienne Pieczonka (Chrysothemis), Waltraud Meier (Klytämnestra) and Eric Owens (Orestes). I bought the ticket to hear Stemme, who I’d never heard live before, but this is one of quadruple-bonus type evenings that you sometimes get in large cities with big opera houses.

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Still more Tristan und Isolde

(Previous section here.)

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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Puccini – La Fanciulla del West / Vienna Staatsoper, October 2013 (3)

(Previous section here.)

This was an entertaining few hours, but the opera is so full of references, musical and otherwise, to this other thing, “the wild West,” that I found it hard to really get into. Like the moment in Act I where Minnie says she hasn’t met a man she could love yet, and Rance replies “maybe you have found him!” and in (musically speaking) strolls Aaron Copeland. Puccini’s music references ‘the West’ over and over rather than using the music to show how it felt to be there.

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Puccini – La Fanciulla del West / Vienna Staatsoper, October 2013 (2)

(Previous section here).

So Minnie cheats, and wins. Meanwhile Dick is still bleeding. But he pulls himself together for Act III, where he is nearly hanged. But Minnie intervenes, appealing to the miners’ sympathy. This broadcast has German subtitles, and I was pleased to note that a word I learned reading Schiller, pflegen, “to look after” made an appearance on the screen – Minnie reminds one of the lost boys that she had gepflegt him when he was sick.

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Puccini – La Fanciulla del West / Vienna Staatsoper, October 2013 (1)

There is no reason that an Italian opera about the wild west should necessarily be any more silly than an Italian opera about, say, sixteenth century Spain. But this opera seems to be very invested in being a sort of set piece – it’s got everything from rifles to poker games to a hangin’, or almost a hangin’. There are even buffoonish Indians! But its setpiece quality is not entirely Puccini’s fault. The opera is based on a play by American author David Belasco, who was one of many late 19th century American writers and playwrights to capitalize on the popularity of stories about the west. According to Wikipedia, “similarities between the libretto and the work of Richard Wagner have also been found.” I guess if one goes out on a limb and assumes some similarities between the libretto and the opera, that would meant that there are also similarities between the opera and the work of Richard Wagner, but I don’t want to push the analysis too far.

The version that I watched was a copy of a live webcast from Vienna. Here is Act I:

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Der Rosenkavalier / Stemme, Kasarova, Hartelius et al. / Zurich Opera 2004 (2)

[part one and discussion of the production here.]

The Marschallin in this production is Nina Stemme, who I had heard before on DVD as Aida. Aida is not my favorite opera by a long shot, and this may have caused me not to register how nice Stemme sounded. But she has what I would call the perfect sort of voice for the Marschallin.

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