Christopher Weimer's recent post is most helpful in understanding why
a director like Zambello can do excellent work with "Iphigenie," adequate
work with "Tristan," and still produce fiascos like her Met "Lucia" and
Chicago "Norma"; why Vick can provide a riveting "Pique Dame" for
Glyndebourne and Chicago, while his Met "Trovatore" remains a hideous
distraction from both test and music.
But I believe that Weimer does not go far enough. The real problem,
IMO, lies in these directors' concepts of "theatre" and the ways in which
theatre engages an audience, producing both empathetic credibility in and
intellectual responses to the drama. None of these directors "gets" the
fundamental principle of opera--the musical illumination of a dramatic text.
They simply hear no "theatricality" in such an illumination at all. As a
result, they feel compelled to substitute artifical theatricality through
quirky concept productions for the void they vaguely sense is there. Perhaps
Zambello is unable to "hear" the great conflicts Tristan and Isolde
experience with their society, their physical world, and their psycho-sexual
images of themselves as they are rendered in Wagner's music. If she does
hear them, she is unable translate these sounds into scenic terms that
enhance that music. She did find ideas in the text, so she came up with the
"glass bus-waiting booth" for her Seattle "Tristan." This serves as a very
"cutsey," interesting symbol of the lovers' transparent isolation from the
world, but is no substitute for a production of the opera. Her sexy body
builders as oarsmen in the lower level of Tristan's ship may lend a needed
aura of sexuality to the work (especially when the leads are Eaglen and
Heppner,) but although such a coup de theatre may momentarily engage an
audience long enough for them to think, "How cute!" it does little to
illuminate the essential emotional currents on the stage or how the music
translates those currents to listeners.
Point blank: these directors simply do not understand opera. They
have no concept of the "there" that's there, and can make a reputation for
themselves only by substituting a "there" of their own.
Regards, Dennis Ryan