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Subject: Seattle TRISTAN, Monday 10 August
From: Andrew Cooper <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Andrew Cooper <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 16 Aug 1998 19:16:39 +0000
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I got back from Seattle yesterday and have now had a chance to look
at the reactions of various listers to the TRISTAN.   William and I
were at Rod Parke's get-together on Saturday 8th, and heard a number
of views (mostly ecstatic) on earlier performances from opera-l'ers
and FLO'ers.   It seemed that tickets were likely to be available
for Thursday 13th, when we'd still be in Seattle.  Go, go, go was
the message - this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

We thought we'd wait and see what Monday was like before doing
anything rash.

After Act 1, I was ready to join the ecstatic brigade, and had to be
restrained from going to the box-office (if open) and buying those
tickets.  We had a beer instead.  ("Hey" said the barman, "You're the
first Englishmen I've met who wanted chilled glasses.")

After Act 2, I was still quite keen on trying for Thursday.

After Act 3, I agreed that we shouldn't. My enthusiasm had slowly
seeped away as the opera went on.

Overture:  As in the Seattle RING, I found Armin Jordan a brisk-ish,
polite and rather lightweight conductor.  That worked OK in 1995,
complementing especially Monte Pederson's lyrical Wotan, and doing
wonders for the interminable length of GOTTERDAEMMERUNG Act 1.  Here
again there was plenty of lyricism, lots of orchestral detail - but,
in the last analysis, a lack of oomph at the big moments when the
orchestra ought to be whipped up to almost a state of hysteria or
delirium. So, at least once during the overture, and at critical
points thereafter, I found myself wishing for a Solti, a Bernstein,
even a Levine.. I think the conducting was one reason why Act 3 left
me cold.

Act 1.  Very impressive singing indeed from both Eaglen and Heppner.
I wasn't surprised at how well she sounded (full tone and lots of
volume, very secure, everything dead-on), but was agreeably surprised
by how easily he coped (no sign of obtrusive wobble, though the voice
no longer seems as beautiful as on the LOHENGRIN recording, or the
Sawallisch MEISTERSINGER or the Strauss disc).  The production and
designs were mostly quite good - Eaglen didn't have to move much, and
conveyed appropriate emotions satisfactorily (I especially liked her
look of contempt - "What do you know?" - when Michelle de Young's
kittenish Brangaene told her what a good match King Marke was).
Three minor irritations were the unnecessary appearances of the
luridly-lit galley-slaves, the bizarre campery of the sailors waving
their mops as they echoed Kurwenal's taunts - and the absence of
Brangaene during the drinking of the potion (she is supposed to
prepare it there and then, not beforehand).  But overall, pretty
good.

I also enjoyed Act 2, though somehow it didn't seem quite on the
same level.  I wasn't bothered by the cut (the opera ended at
11.55pm as it was) or by the set.or the production (I particularly
liked the ending, with Tristan's wounding stylised and magnified).
What did seem to be missing was some sort of spark between the
protagonists, but the singing still made up for that.

On to Act 3.  I couldn't fault Heppner's delivery of the monologue,
but somehow he didn't seem quite inside the part, something I've
noticed also in his Walther on stage and his broadcast Grimes.
Greer Grimsley (Kurwenal) has quite an attractive dark voice, but I
found him too monochrome when heard at lengh and would have preferred
a warmer tone.

The staging also contributed to my creeping dissatisfaction.  The
perspex box was a waste of space, didn't remotely suggest a castle
and positively got in the way of the action.  The decision, no doubt
on cost grounds, to send the chorus/supers home early was a
tremendous mistake - there was no sense of menace, of ambiguous
forces pushing their way in, of Kurwenal's misunderstanding of who he
was fighting.  Having him commit suicide was preposterous.
Meanwhile, I'd found it impossible to suspend disbelief and imagine
that Isolde was hurrying in when in fact she was moving very slowly
indeed.  At the end (after Rose's eloquent solo), I found the
Liebestod dull, and not just because I was by this point rather
disaffected - Jordan's failure to rise to the occasion seemed
matched by uninvolving singing from Eaglen.

Was it worth seeing?  Yes, it was.  Could it have been better?  Yes,
it could.

More Seattle, and some San Francisco (including CURLEW RIVER) to
follow.

Andrew Cooper ([log in to unmask])
UK operatic pages:  http://www.personal.leeds.ac.uk/~lib6arc/

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