No, I promise I will not overwhelm you with a whole lot of musicological gobbledigook about Tristan and Isolde and The Meaning of Life. This is a consumer alert, not Introduction to Wagner 101. And there won’t be a quiz.
The Metropolitan Opera (aka The Met) opens its season in less than two weeks with a new production of Richard Wagner‘s oh-so-hard-to-pull-off Tristan und Isolde. Unless you are a tried and true Wagnerian you need to be reminded that this is not an operatic walk in the park. Neither for the singers nor for the listeners.
And, at NEARLY FIVE HOURS RUNNING TIME of which four are just music and one hour is taken up by two thirty minute intermissions THIS OPERA IS NOT FOR THE UNIITIATED.
Which begs the question…
First things first. T & I is so very, very, very difficult to cast that for a while, back in the 80’s and for a period of fifteen or so years the MET pulled it off its schedule. There had been a long list of vocal mishaps, with wannabe Tristans and not-quite-ready-for-the-big-time Isoldes bitting the operatic dust half-way through this grueling operatic triathlon that the whole thing became a futile exercise and an embarrassment.
Well, first look at the running time: four hours (ballpark) of stentorian singing at the top and bottom of the singer’s range, competing against an augmented orchestra that can number close to one hundred players, singing in an opera house that can range on the average upwards of 3,000 seats (the MET has 3,800) in which microphones are considered a criminal offense.
Should I go on?
And then there is that thing called tradition, which in Opera can amount to a curse. Some of us have been going to the opera longer than some of our readers have been alive. That usually means that along with wonderul memories comes heavy baggage.
I can hardly get into a conversation with opera fans that will not include someone rattling off a long list of who he or she heard back when in the 1950 opening of the Upper Slavovian Opera House.
And in the case of Wagner and, especially, Wagnerian singers, one will inevitably hear the names of Lauritz Melchior, Set Svanholm, Jon Vickers, Siegfried Jerusalem, Jess Thomas and how they don’t make them like that anymore.
Singing Wagner, especially his killer roles, calls for a huge voice, superhuman stamina and keen intelligence. The intelligence part has to do with knowing how to pace yourself as a singer, when to pull out the stops and when to pull back. Sing at full throttle all the time and trouble looms ahead.
But, lucky us, the MET has found a robust Australian by the name of Stuart Skelton. The singing Aussie has been making a name for himself in the operatic world singing all sorts of impossible Wagnerian parts, after graduating from our very own CCM thirty years ago.
Tristan und Isolde opens the Met season in a new production by Mariusz Treliński in a matter of days and with a top-notch cast headed by Stuart Skelton and Nina Stemme as the doomed lovers, surrounded by bass René Pape as King Marke, Ekaterina Gubanova as Brangäne and Sir Simon Rattle conducting.
The MET season opened this past Monday September 26 and soon opera fans accross the country will be able to sit in comfort, just a few feet away from a movie screen and for a mere $20 watch a show that would set one back several hundreds of dollars if one were lucky enough to find a ticket to the MET in NYC.
And that would not include air fare and hotel and meals in the Big Apple.
Here in Cincinnati you can catch the MET HD presentation of T&I on several movie screens on Saturday October 8 at noon.
Which movie screens? That’s your homework. That and listening to the You Tube links I’ve posted:
1) Stuart Skelton sings the Love Duet from Tristan und Isolde with soprano Heidi Melton (in English!) https://youtu.be/ajXTklhL6Xg
2) Nina Stemme sings the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde https://youtu.be/j8enypX74hU
And to bone up on the plot, just google it.
See you at the Opera!
Rafael de Acha