WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde


October 16, 2016 by fredrikcoulter

My daughter is currently studying vocal performance and musical theater at Oklahoma City University.  Dispite the fact that my father wrote a couple of operas, and that I’ve been in a couple operas, this is a genre of music that I am really not all that familiar with.  My daughter is now a junior, so it looks like she’s not going to drop out of school and become a punk rock singer.  (Does punk rock even exist any more?)  So I need to figure out what this whole “opera” thing is all about.

One way that I’m going to do this is to try to attend all of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD performances this year.  The first opera of the year was Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

Normally, the Live in HD performances are Saturday matinees.  However, due to some family responsibilities and a hurricane, I ended up seeing the opera Wednesday evening after work.  It started at 6:30, and ended around 11:45.  The theater that it was playing at was over half an hour from home, so Wednesday was a late night.  (Pity for us old people?)

This production of Tristan und Isolde was a new production, set in “modern” times with modern graphics in the background.  There was a video display during the overture which displayed radar, as well as pictures of a modern war ship going through very large waves. These images recurred throughout the production.

I recently got into a (minor) discussion with an author who’s had one of his works turned into a television series.  One thing that he notices when discussing other visual works is the color scheme of the work.  I had never noticed this before, but I noticed that the sets and costumes of this production were almost all either dark green or black, with the singular exception of the King (who wore white).  There was this overwhelming fog behind all the scenes.  The costumes for the male chorus was all black, commando clothing.  All in all, a very dark show.

The set designs were interesting, with the first act being the best and the last act being the most pedestrian.  The first act was a three floor ship interior, with stairs connecting the floors on the left.  When Isolde as singing, Tristan was watching on closed circuit telesion, with the images blown up behind him.  The singing was great, and very emotional.  Act two’s set rotated, as the action took place in an observation tower, with electronic counsoles and radar.  The set rotated as the singers moved about the set.  The act finished in a warehouse below the tower.  The third act was in a hospital room.

But the length of the show got too me.  There really isn’t enough plot to justify a show this long.  In my mind, Wagner needed an editor.  I think you could have had the same plot with the same emotional impact in a shorter show.

If you’re a Wagner fan, you may wish to wait for the Met to release this show on CD and BluRay, or make the trip to New York City.  The show was interesting, and if you like long shows you’ll like this one.

(One nice thing about the theater experience is that there’s a clock on screen during intermissions.  This means you can make an informed decision as to whether you have time to get candy or not.)

At least one different production of the opera is available on YouTube.


One thought on “WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde

  1. Mary Corda says:

    I absolutely have to agree with you. And I feel your pain I too was at the Wednesday evening broadcast that ended at 11:45 and my theater is about 45 minutes away from my home. The first thing I thought to myself post viewing was there is no way that had to be five hours long. However the singing and the orchestra was amazing as usual. I don’t know how those players maintain that singing for the length of that opera. I’m in awe of them.


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