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Subject: Re: "Tristan und Isolde" at the Met, opening night...Sept. 26, 2016
From: David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:David H Spence <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 27 Sep 2016 01:30:33 -0400

text/plain (93 lines)

Listening to Acts One and Two and just catching the prelude to Act Three
(with fine English horn solo to follow) and the last three minutes of
Liebestod- my attention had been directed elsewhere, I felt a little
underwhelmed by just the audio of this.  Leading exceptions to the rule were
Stemme, Gubanova, and Pape.
I preferred Stemme tonight during Act One to Voigt eight years ago under
Levine, that is, as a First Act Isolde.  She has the text and music so
beautifully internalized, that regardless the conditions she might be
singing under or over really, she might as well have had Andreas Schager
opposite her as Tristan and Barenboim on the podium, instead of who showed
up for this.  

Rattle conducted a mostly fine prelude to Act One, but even there the
build-up of any excitement seemed to remain out on the surface.  Remembering
how beautifully Levine handled the same moment in Act One eight years ago,
Rattle with the entrance of Tristan to meet Isolde with getting his strings
to mash down to such an extent the phrasing was compromised, was mediocre
here, as was the string playing to start Act Two. What is anyone to make of
it requiring only a mere seven minutes (plus a few seconds perhaps) to make
it from the opening of the Love Scene (from the point that both singers
start in) to the extended, almost seemingly then over-extended 'O sink
hernieder' to begin, also featuring therein and over-miked sounding
Brangaene's Watch?  This seems like not so much a cut, to remove such a
bleeding chunk, as a disfiguration. 

Regardless, this Tristan from Rattle was certainly better than the very
portentous, excessively slow, soggy Pelleas he conducted from the Met, that
almost sounded more like a stodgy take on Tristan than did this Tristan,
with his wife then, what it sounded like, the second-tier Isolde in
Debussy's Pelleas.And in this she could have had the second-tier Tristan of
Stuart Skelton to match.  Skelton was fine this evening during the easier
passages of the role, with a fine command of lyricism.   The abridged
Liebesnacht however featured a fine share of quasi-Heppner-esque crooning,
snatching breaths, etc., but there was not a whole lot in the way of line
with which Rattle supplied him anyway.  Soos from principal double-reeds and
clarinets from the Met orchestra were consistently very fine.

Evgeny Nikitin I found servicable as Kurwenal, hardly anything more than
that and the Young Sailor to start Act One to be substandard. Rene Pape
delivered fine gravitas and expressivity to King Marke, but the pacing
together with him though to have been a little matter-of-fact,
look-at-the-watch perhaps.The best of this evening belonged to Stemme and
Gubanova's scenes together, with Gubanova a very appealingly girlish
Brangaene, steady and warm in tone through the first scene of Act Two. One
should however expect a little more vehemence to back Stemme for climaxes to
the Narrative and Curse from Act One than one had from Rattle.  

What of the production?  I haven't been able to see it yet, though I
remember being impressed with the Tchaikovsky/Bartok double-bill from two
seasons ago, but mark my words, Tristan und Isolde is a much different
animal than any stage work by Tchaikovsky or Bartok or double-bill of both.
 First of all, was there video commentary during the Prelude to Act One?  I
think I ran across some insinuation somewhere to the effect there might have
been. I am reminded of reading about a Lohengrin from Berlin, in which
Barenboim was partnered by Stefan Herheim; Barenboim insisted that if the
Prelude to Act One for it was to be staged, then his orchestra would have to
play it twice, the first time for his audience to listen to it first
un-distracted by any visuals. 

I also heard this evening an emcee comment about the first half of Act Three
- a little boy on stage or on screen to represent Tristan? - and as such I
am thus reminded of the Peter Konwitschny production out of Munich, but
honestly now, could there have been intended any comparable irony to what
went on in that?  Mariusz Trelinski might have liked the idea, but had he
picked it up from there at all, it seems to me he might have missed the
entire point of that production - as revealed during the last two pages of
the Liebestod to end it all.

It would be good to hear more from Dan Kessler as to further assessment of
what a good number of people saw tonight,  Was there any way in which this
production succeeded and how specifically, with a few examples, did it
indeed prove too distracting?  What proved too distracting back in 2008 was
not the fine Dieter Dorn production, but the splitting up of the video
transmission into split-screen, four smaller boxes, and all that messing
around by somebody - the name an obvious one escapes me - on Met editing
staff.   Thank you very much, Dan, in advance.

David Spence

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