Tag: Wagner

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!).

Karita Mattila / Alice Tully Hall 3-10-16

This was the best concert I have been to in months – exciting, beautifully rendered, balls-to-the-wall Lieder singing from the very first song. I had never heard Mattila live before, and I now wish I had more opportunities to do so – her voice is stunning. It’s bigger than I expected from recordings; part of me wished I had been able to sit closer to as to see more of her acting up close (I was in the back row of the balcony) but I think that aurally back center of the hall was perfect.

And it was so nice to go to a concert that does not consist of songs I have heard a thousand times before! Familiar material, but not too much so. The first set was Brahms’s Ziguenerlieder (Gypsy Songs). Mattila threw herself into these both vocally and physically; I realized when I opened my eyes somewhere around ‘Wißt ihr, wann mein Kindchen” that by not watching I was missing out.

I have heard Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder a few times before, but I never listened to them with the same attention as I did last night. Among the high points here was the final song, “Träume,” (“Dreams”) which was spellbinding, from the moment the vocal line steps quietly out of the piano part until it sinks away again at the final lines of the text. Afterwards, I kept trying to put into words the feeling of when a song performance really clicks. I have a sense of being able to follow what is being expressed, even if it is in a language I don’t know, or don’t know well enough to understand every word; I also get an impression of the song, or at least the vocal line, holding itself together – there’s a feeling of wholeness. Whatever it was, and however you want to describe it, there was plenty of it in this concert.

After intermission, Mattila sang Berg’s Four Songs, Op. 2. The more I hear live performances of Berg’s songs, the more I like them. Here, with the first one, “Dem Schmerz sein Recht,” every note seemed to fall perfectly into place (I have in my notes “this just gets better and better”); the entire set was over far too quickly, and when we’d moved on to Strauss I wished for a moment that we could stay in Berg world for a while more.

Mattila’s stage presence is lively, funny and extremely energetic, and she certainly knows how to butter up her audience. She introduced her encore, a jazz (I think?) song called “Eine kleine Sehnsucht” with the observation that she had learned a new English word recently, “yearning,” and that this song perfectly expressed her yearning to come to New York again – “but in German, of course.” She delivered the song with the sort of style and sparkle that in retrospect I think Renée Fleming was going for in her similarly jazzy encore the other night, but didn’t (by comparison) quite nail. Mattila nailed it.

More Lohengrin

I spent a few hours this morning watching Richard Jones’s production of Wagner’s Lohengrin for the Bayerische Staatsoper, with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role and Anja Harteros as Elsa. I am not sure that even this production, which was a worthwhile concept performed well, has brought me around to this opera. In part, this was because I was watching it with le spouse, who started laughing and snorting coffee when Mr. Kaufmann came in cradling that animatronic-ish swan and who proceeded to sit there and nitpick the logic of the entire thing and then went and sat on the other side of the room reading a treatise about thermodynamics and enjoying the music.

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Deep thoughts about Wagner’s Lohengrin

vlcsnap-00012Led by some excerpts on one of Karita Mattila’s recital CDs and one too many evenings with Tristan und Isolde, I watched a 1980s Met production of Lohengrin because it was the only one that the library has. The hair was a little big for my taste, but at least I know what the whole thing sounds like now.

By the end of this opera, both the women are either dead or banished and the Duchy of Brabant is in the mature hands of a twelve-year-old kid. Order has been restored, I guess. Then again – perhaps this is just me – when I am told that the opera takes place in Belgium, something in me knows from the get-go that this is probably not going to turn out well. (The scene is given as Antwerp, which is in modern-day Belgium, but the medieval Duchy of Brabant if I remember correctly included areas that are now part of the Netherlands).

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Also, did you know that the startle reflex of an armadillo is to launch itself straight up into the air to about the height of the bottom of a car, and that’s why you so often see dead ones on the road?

I was driving home last night listening to the end of Tristan und Isolde. The Liebestod is useful if you need to have a good cry. I didn’t, but I got one anyway, and it led to one of those moments where most of my brain is listening to Wagner and coordinating the waterworks, but another part of it was pointing out to me that I was driving down an unlit country road in the dark with tears streaming down my cheeks, and this exactly how people end up hitting deer and getting in a wreck. (It was later pointed out to me that this particular combination of circumstances is actually probably not, as a rule, how people hit deer, but you know what I mean.)

I did not hit any deer, but I may stick to string quartets and Handel recitals for driving in the future.

Wagner – Tristan und Isolde / Wiener Staatsoper 12-21-13

I am having bad luck with first acts this week. I slept through a bit of Lazarus on Wednesday, and yesterday I didn’t realize that the performance began at the alarmingly early hour of five and as a result arrived late and had to go to opera detention: watching Act I on the TV in the lobby of the gallery level (where our seats were). I was not alone, though, which was comforting. (This is actually the first time I have ever arrived late to a concert or opera, though Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in Moscow a while back was a very near miss. I guess it happens to everyone at least once, right?)

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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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Ultimately Deb Voigt’s fault

Last week, I went looking for recordings of Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten so I could hear a little of it before seeing the actual show. I did find a complete recording in the library, and I also found one of Deborah Voigt’s recital CDs, “Obsessions” that had bits of that opera, some other selections of Strauss, and some Wagner. In the end, I didn’t listen to the complete recording of the Strauss opera at all, because I got distracted by Voigt, both the Strauss and the Wagner, which turned into listening to Kirsten Flagstad singing various selections from Tristan und Isolde which turned into spending today watching a DVD of a performance of Tristan from the Met in 1999, with Ben Heppner as Tristan and Jane Eaglen as Isolde.

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Possibly not a good idea

Listening to the overture to Der Fliegende Holländer while figuring out airline ticket situation to Vienna in December. (Already got the opera tickets. First things first, you know?)

Some of these itineraries that Kayak, Orbitz, Cheaptickets, etc. are suggesting are so bizarre. Color me skeptical, but I am fairly sure one can get from New York to Vienna in less than 21 hours. Far less than 21 hours, in fact.

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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Wagner – Der Fliegende Holländer / De Nederlandse Opera 2010 (2)

(Previous section here.)

When Daland’s crew first encounter the Dutchman and his sailors, the latter – after the light in the back has turned a strange yellow – come through those doors. In Act II, as Senta sings her ballad, it’s as if the music invokes whatever is on the other side of the doors. Members of the Dutchman’s crew appears and vanish on the other side of the glass, and eventually reappear again, trailing blood. When the Dutchman arrives, he and Senta initially see one another through the doors. She wants out, and he wants in. The boundary is intensified during the revelry that begins Act III. Here, the partiers are all at the rear of the stage, and there is an additional metal screen between them and the Dutchman’s crew, who are seated in the front. As they call to the ghostly crew it’s fairly clear that they are doing something rather dangerous: attempting to penetrate the boundary between the living and the dead.

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Wagner – Der Fliegende Holländer / De Nederlandse Opera 2010 (1)

I think Richard Wagner must have been a difficult man to live with. Have you ever noticed that his solution to most relationship problems is the death of both parties? (Wouldn’t it be fun to have an “Ask Richard Wagner” advice column? People could write in about their personal problems and . . .actually never mind; this would be a terrible idea.)

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Weekend 6-24-12

I just finished watching that DVD of Der Fliegender Holländer, of which more later. I am always mildly surprised whenever I find myself enjoying Wagner, because he and I got off to a kind of rocky start. My first encounter with his music was the march of the Meistersingers from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. We played it in high school orchestra for graduation every year – I rather liked it. So one day at the age of twenty I sat down with a brand new recording of the opera, purchased from one of those record stores that used to exist not on the internet, and expected to enjoy it.

I gave up after about two hours thinking that this was quite possibly the most annoying thing I had ever experienced in my entire life.

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