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Subject: Seattle Tristan/Americans in Bayreuth
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Date:Fri, 21 Aug 1998 14:25:37 EDT

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Before leaving for Bayreuth the other day I hastily posted  extracts from a
Financial Times review (by Andrew Clark) of the Seattle Tristan.

Today the (London) Times Literary Supplement (21st August) carries a review by
Andrew Porter.  There is no website, but I imagine that a good American
library will subscribe to this journal.

Andrew Porter's lengthy article begins with a description of  Seattle, the
theatre, and a nod to previous achievements there.  He then surveys production
and design approaches from as far back as the Munich premiere, by way of Max
Bruckner, Appia, Roller, Preetorius, Wieland Wagner,  and Peter Hall through
to Zambello.  There is a comprehensive description of the Seattle sets and

As to the protagonists, he is somewhat ambivalent although less so than the
previous UK critic in the FT.   This is the final section of his review:

"Seattle's new Tristan and Isolde, Ben Heppner and Jane Eaglen, were tackling
their notes for the first time.  Both have long been promising.  Heppner's
promise, revealed ten years ago as Walther in a Chicago Tannhauser, was
confirmed in the bigger roles of  Walther in Seattle's Meistersinger in 1989
and Lohengrin in 1994.  Promise it remains.  A big flowing tenor, honestly
deployed, growing stronger, not forced.  He's not yet much of a performer,
however.  He didn't act.  His features remained blank: his singing lacked
detailed expression.  Eaglen, in a programme note,  said that she hoped to be
singing Isolde for the next twenty-five years, "still learning things about
what the words mean",  and she began by mastering the notes.  Master them she
had, in tones true, steady and powerful through all the range, sometimes
beautiful and tender, sometimes just a bit coarse.  Both singers are
uncommonly large.  Should we mind?  In this production, it proved dfficult not
to.  The very first Tristan, Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, was immense, and
the first Isolde, his wife Malvina, was hefty, but Wagner said that one forgot
Schnorr's poundage once he began to sing and act with exceptional beauty and
intelligence.  And King Ludwig, who was hardly indifferent to masculine looks,
agreed.  In Seattle, it was difficult to overlook the lovers' poundage.  There
was little of the transfiguration that inner emotion and understanding can
bring.  Zambello had, as it were, decided to keep two very big singers within
a small pen;  and one thought about strength of materials when they subsided
on to the same couch.  Her main care seemed to be for the scenic commentary,
not the communicativeness of the principals.  At the start of the love duet,
the two of them stood side by side facing forward.  The "passionate embrace"
that Wagner calls for may have been beyond them, but stand-and-deliver is not
the only alternative;  they might at least have looked at one another,  The
"big cut" of old tradition was observed.  At the climax of the duet, the stage
burst into flames around them - eye-fodder to suggest what the singers had
failed to provide.  Eaglen and Heppner have several further Tristan
engagements lined up.  May they encounter collaborators eager above all to
inspire intent personal performances.  Vocally, the two are well equipped.

There was a lustrous Brangane, Michelle De Young: a loud over-emphatic
Kurwenal, Greer Grimsley; and the most beautiful Mark I have ever heard, Peter
Rose (the Welsh National Opera's Mark five years ago - he was wonderful then)
pouring out Plancon-emulant tone in poignant lyrical lines.  Armin Jordan was
an arresting conductor, long-breathed, yet nervously alert and ardent,
restoring urgency to the familar music within its long spans.  And the Seattle
Symphony players have become Wagner adept".

So writes Andrew Porter today.

Meanwhile I have just returned from my own Wagner mini-expedition to Bayreuth
for Hollander, Meistersinger and Parsifal.  No new productions again this
year, and there has been comments on the List about these revivals anyway

But it is the American singer contributions which have been so evident.
Wonderful, and yet they are names which rarely if ever appear on our List.  I
suppose this is because they are following their careers promarily in Europe,
but it is a shame that they do not often feature here.

Take Meistersinger.  Walther is being sung by Robert Dean Smith at all
performances, following the withdrawal by Peter Seiffert at the end of Act 2
in the first performance.  Mr. Smith is just excellent.  He has a fine natural
ringing tenor, he looks about 24 years old, he is slim and an excellent actor
who interprets his role. Frankly, having heard BH in this role three times I
prefer this young man in every way.  And yet who has heard of him?  The
programme biography is fairly silent - born in Chetopa, Kansas, then Juillard
and Bielefeld in Germany - that's it!  Fortunately I met him in the town.
After congratulations etc. we talked for a while.  he is currently on contract
with the Mannheim Opera, where he sings everything from Parsifal to Manrico.
He comes to London in December for Dream of Gerontius with the LSO, and Covent
Garden has signed him up for Meistersinger in 2000  - note that and be there,
those of you in the UK.

And then there was Eva, sung by Emily Magee.  She looks delightful, sings
delightfully - and no problems for her in launching the quintet.  She really
is another name to follow, who on this showing deserves and is on the way
towards a splendid career.  She is from New York and is doing lots of work in
Berlin with Barenboim (who conducted brilliantly last Sunday to huge applause
- pace Marc Shepherd - and it was Wolfgang Wagner who drew the boos).

On to Parsifal, with an American Kundry whose name was totally new to me -
Linda Watson, from Oakland, California.  Began her career in Aachen, now on
the German circuit. She too drew walls of applause, and looked quite tearful.
She made the role sound and look easy - some praise.  She should be widely

Then there was Hollander.  Alan Titus took the killer title role - he worked
very hard indeed to considerable effect.  Not a new singer at all, but
American - as is Cheryl Studer who sang Senta.  Poor dear, it is simply not
for her althiough she was very brave!

So where would Bayreuth be without this splendid American contribution?  And
don't forget Polaski, Levine, Ginzer, Guyer, Halfvarson...etc.  None of whom I
heard because I was not at the Ring this year, but all carrying off honours
for the USA.

Regards     NICOLAS PALMER     London

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