If you’re looking closely, Opera never really disappeared during the pandemic.
some companies Demonstration in empty houses, is expected to reach the audience at home. Some risked early reopening, and were forced to suddenly canceled their show If a coronavirus test came back positive. Musicians left the stage altogether and started writing. for streaming platforms.
But now opera as we remember it – starry opening nights, full orchestration and singing, cheers coming from over a thousand people in formal costume – is back. It is still rare in the United States, but not in Europe, thanks to rising vaccination rates, newly opened borders, and relaxed security measures. And, after a long absence of large-scale productions, Wagner has two huge “Tristan und Isolde,” with A-list vocals and creative teams running at the same time. in munich and Aix-en-Provence, France.
In a binge driven by deprivation, I watched them back-to-back: Sundays in Germany and Mondays in France. On the surface, the shows share virtually nothing in common, except perhaps a belief in the timelessness of the wood-paneled interior.
But both are masterfully conducted – by Kirill Petrenko at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and by Simon Rattle, leading the London Symphony Orchestra at the Aix-en-Provence Festival – though in different ways than those of Wagner. show the explanatory elasticity of the score. And two productions are the work of directors known for their radical approach to classics: Krzysztof Warlikowski and simon stone.
In Aix, the title roles are conveniently performed by two “Tristan” veterans, tenor Stuart Skelton and soprano Nina Stemme; In Munich, stars Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros are making their debut as doomed lovers.
Warlikowski approaches opera with shocking, if disappointing, restraint for a director who typically levels his productions with excitement. their staging (which Will be livestreamed on 31st July) is relatively simple, with legible metaphors and a concept guided by Freud’s death drive, which was theorized long after Wagner wrote his work, as in Isolde’s Act I exclamation “Todgeweihtes Haupt! Todgeweihtes Herz! “: Death-dedicated head, death-dedicated heart.
Freud is always present. The set turns—within a frame of three wood-paneled walls designed by Warlikowski’s colleague and wife, Malgorzata Szczesniak—but two furniture pieces remain stationary: an analyst’s divan on one side of the stage, where Tristan spends his childhood. Recalls his trauma, and on the other a glass cabinet full of deadly tools.
Warlikowski’s melancholy Tristan and Isolde are bound to die, no love potion needed from the start. They attempt suicide in each act and, perhaps, are hurt by the bloody history that precedes the action of the opera. And they are not alone: the young sailor who sings the first line, here softly voiced tenor Manuel Günther, wanders indiscriminately in his underwear and a childish raw crown and cape, his wounded eyes wrapped in bandages. Recovery proves impossible for some. In the final scene, “Haer Wutt der Tod!” (“Death cries out here!”) From Tristan’s servant Kurvenal—bass-baritone Wolfgang Koch, with a ferocity out of place in this production—the characters simply collapse, as if glad to welcome their fate.
In the pit, Petrenko led a patient prelude, systematically setting out the melody of his desire for discovery. But then he paused, in breathtaking silence, before the orchestra’s first burst of passion, which gave way to an evening of sensual intensity, drug-like though never cumbersome. The prelude to his third act had a thick texture of molasses, trapping and depressing.
Kaufmann and Hartrose never reached orchestral level, or sometimes sound confident, as their partners Okka von der Damerau, as Brangen, and Mika Kares, as King Marque. Kaufman’s Tristan had a softer voice, more delicate than Heroic. And Harteros brought an unusual lightness to his role, with “Libestode” being sometimes hard to hear and marred by a disturbing tone.
They were at their best at the end of the marathon love duet in Act II: Hartrose attaining a delicate beauty as she contemplated the “and” of the phrase “Tristan and Isolde”; And Kaufman is quiet yet crushed as he sings morbidly romantic words that introduce the “Libestode” theme.
In Aix, Skelton and Stemme’s performances reflected their growth in these roles over the years—particularly Skelton, who was not the only survivor of Tristan’s punitive Act III monologue, as in He did it at the Metropolitan Opera in 2016., but delivered it with tremendous grit and shattered theatrical acumen.
With a cast that includes a powerful Jamie Barton as Brangen and Franz-Joseph Selig, loud but touching as Marque, and propulsive and clear under Rattle’s baton with the London Symphony, Aix’s “Tristan” Musically, a feat. (the production will be broadcast on France Music and art concert Follow along on July 8th, streaming on arte.)
Rattle’s demeanor was less sensual than Petrenko’s, but there was a fiery order of drama amid an emphasis on accuracy. Unfortunately, one of the most effective mood-setters in opera, the prologue was difficult to focus on as Stone’s staging lifted the curtain to reveal a party inside a fashionable Paris apartment with — you guessed it — wood-paneled Walls. Wagner’s pungent passion and longing music underpinned the sound of Clinking Glass and Crinking Gift Rap.
Like many of Stone’s productions, this one – designed by Ralph Myers – features a set so realistic and well-equipped that it would be called “turnkey” on an HGTV show. Its purpose, here, is to combine it with what amounts to the imagination of “Tristan” via “Madame Bovary.”
During that opening party, a woman detectives reading her husband kisses another woman in the kitchen, and recovered texts on his phone. With the twinkling of lights, Stone’s surrealism becomes surreal: the view outside is no longer the city of Paris but the open sea. Running into an old romantic tale like Emma Bovary, the woman imagines herself at the center of the Tristan myth.
These reverence continues with each act – in a way that, at best, crowds out the opera and, at worst, betrays it. As lights twinkle in a design office overlooking the hill of Montmartre in Act II, windows reveal a moonlit sky; When, in Act III, the woman and husband ride the subway to the theater one night, joined by a young man—in her fantasies, jealous boyfriend and tattler Melott (Dominic Sedgwick)—the train car appears to pass by actual stations and a Green countryside.
No one dies in this “Tristan”, but when the woman returns to reality with “Libestaud”, she takes off her wedding ring, hands it to her husband, and leaves her on the train as she meets the young man. moves along.
That ending, like other moments in the production, was as perplexing as it was exaggerated—why not just leave it alone and be empowered? Yet at the end from the pit, came the resolution of the chord “Tristan”, a quiet dispatch from the London Symphony. It was a drug in itself, almost enough to induce forgiveness.
Perhaps it colored my gaze, as during the curtain call, I looked around and saw, for the first time since March last year, a stuffy house. It was a privilege for me to be there, as it was in Munich. I had my important questions, but my passionate side felt like Nick Guest in “The Line of Beauty,” viewing the ordinary as the extraordinary and marveling at the fact of the grand opera—in the light of the moment, the very beautiful.