Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Due to ticket exchanges and what-not, Gretchen and I got a late start on this season at the San Francisco Opera, with this past weekend's matinee of "Tristan and Isolde" (Composer: Richard Wagner, Conductor: Donald Runnicles, Production Designer: David Hockney, Stage Director: Thor Steingraber, Production from Los Angeles Opera, Running time: 4 hours, 45 minutes). It has taken me a few days (we saw this on Sunday) to pull together my thoughts without OVERLY being glib about what is a great big chunk of musical theatre. It is a long 4 hours and 45 minutes. There are a couple of intermissions, though. And it does end with an ecstatic 8 minutes of musically dramatic bliss!!

I won't even attempt or pretend to analyze the score, except to say that the leitmotif that runs throughout the piece, is brought to an exquisite climax at the finale. Soprano Christine Brewer as 'Isolde' nailed that final moment. Good thing, too, otherwise one would have no other choice but to say that 'it wasn't over until the fat lady sings.' I do not mean to be harsh, but, Ms. Brewer has definitely gained some weight since her last appearance at SFO. I know it may sound terribly shallow when discussing a performer's physical attributes when she required to slam away at nearly FIVE HOURS of Wagner, however one just can't help but notice how physically uncomfortable she seemed at points. The set was at quite a rake and Ms. Brewer had a scary time negotiating the 'downhill' portion at one point. Not to mention, the costume design was simply NOT flattering. She was simply dressed in drapery. And there is the logistical problem involved in having cast Thomas Moser as 'Tristan', who is equally rotund, therefore providing a certain challenge during the embraces. (Or as opera-pal Gretchen has referred to such situations in the past, "It's like watching the space shuttle dock.") The couple sang out front for the greater majority of the opera.

Vocally, Ms. Brewer was phenomenal. It is a HUGE orchestra that the cast is required to sing over and there was never a problem with hearing her. Mr. Moser, on the other hand, was drowned out more often than not. The supporting cast, most notably Jane Irwin as 'Brangane' sounded fine, but were awkwardly staged in tableaux during the duets between the lead couple.

The staging was pedestrian at best. Well, actually, had it been pedestrian, aka walked around a bit, that would have been more exciting. This was a big raked and empty stage upon which the performers stood still and sang at us. For FOUR HOURS and FORTY FIVE minutes. It was nearly a concert version, except for that big raked stage. David Hockney's design of this production is simply ugly. His choices of colors are typically BOLD, however due to the lack of action on stage, we are forced to just stare at that floor. And that weird tent-like-cut-out-or-whatever-it-was on the boat in Act One. And those 'Celtic trees' on the side of Act Two. And that hideous excuse for 'grass' that was laid out like bad carpet in Act Three. I hated looking at it. And since there is not much of a plot to it, I was able to close my eyes.

Full disclosure: I dozed through most of the second act. Act Two seemed to consist of T&I standing there, hand in hand (since they are unable to physically embrace each other - see above), singing at us. So, I closed my eyes and dozed.

However, as the saying goes, "Wagner has heavenly moments but hellish half hours." Those final eight minutes of the opera were exquisite, and for that the Wagnerites in the audience cheered like they were at a rock concert!


Maxxxxx said...

"Is it bedtime?"

Maestas said...

OMG! Can't imagine sitting through FOUR HOURS AND 45 MINUTES of T&I. I've done The Ring a few times and other than a killer hour or two during Valkry, it's has enough plot to carry you through. Of course, The Ring is fast paced compared to T&I. Even Parsifal is easier.

LOVED the TOMMY scene. May send to the GREAT MAN along with your T&I review if I can find him now. He doesn't personally touch computers and Lisey (wifey) is in New York now.

Gretchen said...

Really like the review of T & I.