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Subject: FT's Met 'Tristan' review
From: janosG <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:janosG <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 27 Sep 2016 11:22:53 -0700

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Financial Times / Arts / Sept. 27, 2016


"Tristan und Isolde"

Metropolitan Opera, New York


      The mighty Met hasn’t had much luck with "Tristan und Isolde" in recent times. In the so-called good old days, Wagner’s "Gesamtkunstwerk" enjoyed the vocal splendors of Lauritz Melchior, Kirsten Flagstad, Helen Traubel and Astrid Varnay, not to mention such lesser lights (term used advisedly) as Set Svanholm and Ramon Vinay. Theatrical values, however, were prosperously primitive. So were the cuts.

      The last Met "Tristan", dating back to 1999, was staged by Dieter Dorn. Surviving till 2008, it fluctuated between neat abstraction and silly obfuscation. Now, as of Monday, we have yet another problematic and clumsy version of the beloved love-tragedy, this one directed by Mariusz Treliński and designed by Boris Kudlicka. It is shared, not incidentally, with Baden-Baden, the Polish National Opera and Beijing.

      Trelinski has set the period piece in a modern symbol-land dominated by a seemingly irrelevant, eminently fussy radar circle-scope that spins on the quasi-industrial cyclorama ad nauseam. The hyper-clever sets, which reportedly place the inaction “in a contemporary wartime setting”, provide more confusion than enlightenment. At best one should try to ignore the clumsy sexual images.

      All this is doubly regrettable because the musical standards remain lofty. Simon Rattle conducts with a compelling fusion of piety, pity and passion. Nina Stemme invests Isolde with luminous tone, tireless energy and infectious sympathy. Stuart Skelton's Tristan may lack the power of his most illustrious predecessors, but he sings – also acts! – with unfailing urgency. René Pape commands the stage as usual, this time as the sadly betrayed King Marke. Appropriately integrated support is provided by Ekaterina Gubanova as Brangäne and Evgeny Nikitin as Kurwenal.

      The official company blurb proclaims that "Tristan" stresses themes associated with ancient Celtic culture: mysticism, magic arts, an evolved warrior code and a non-Christian vision of the afterlife. Little of that emerged on Trelinski’s stage.

For better or worse (probably worse) the production was dedicated to the memory of John Botha, the extraordinary South African tenor who died of cancer at 51 this month. A member in good vocal standing of a vanishing super-forceful breed, he had sung 80 performances of ten roles with the Met over the past 20 years. His heavyweight assignments included the title roles of Verdi's "Don Carlo" and "Otello", Stolzing in Wagner's endless "Meistersinger" plus Siegmund in "Die Walküre" and Florestan in Beethoven's "Fidelio" not to mention the daunting protagonist in ""Tannhäuser". He will be sorely missed.


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