Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Bill Viola's video Tristan und Isolde

The Tsunami Tristan, first produced in Paris 2005 is now touring around Europe in a semi-staged version. Last seen at Royal Festival Hall, London, and before that in Birmingham. Classicalify was in Paris 2005 and did NOT like the production then. This time Classicalify was in London.
The Bill Viola video was lousy then and is lousy now. It has nothing to do with the action of the opera, and banning the performance for under-14's due to nude scenes is just silly.

In 2005 Isolde was sung by Lisa Gasteen, now it's Violeta Urmana, Brangäne was in 2005 Ekaterina Gubanova and is now Anne Sofie von Otter and Tristan is now Gary Lehman instead of Clifton Forbis 2005.

Both Gubanova and von Otter will be remembered by Classicalify as well as Gary Lehman as Tristan. In Paris Valery Gergiev was conducting and in London 2010 it was Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Here is the review from The Guardian (Birmingham):

"First seen at the Paris Opéra in 2005, Peter Sellars and Bill Viola's production of Tristan und Isolde, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, has since morphed into a concert-hall performance: the drama plays out in a spare semi-staging, with Viola's original video art retained as the backdrop. That's how it has now reached the UK, for two performances with the Philharmonia, the first in Birmingham.

Sellars had added a few site-specific tweaks, making regular use of Symphony Hall's balconies to enfold the audience in the drama. On stage, a single rectangular box serves as a bench for the lovers' moonings in the second act and as a bier for the dying Tristan in the third. It's Viola's videos that dominate visually, though, offering a parallel thread through Wagner's music drama that emphasises its links with Buddhist and Hindu sources. Some of the images are compelling, but they become more trite as the work goes on, and the final moments, when Isolde's Liebestod is counterpointed by a body borne up through water on a mass of bubbles, look for all the world like an advert for denture cleaner.

Musically, though, everything was first class. Salonen's conducting was exceptional, not for its sense of line or febrile intensity, but for calm, almost nonchalant authority and musical clarity, combined with wonderfully sculpted playing from the Philharmonia. Gary Lehman and Violeta Urmana were not the most vocally alluring Tristan and Isolde, but in two taxing roles they were unfailingly secure and tirelessly confident. Anne Sofie von Otter contributed a elegant, calm Brangäne, Jukka Rasilainen a sturdy, forthright Kurwenal, and Matthew Best a noble and eloquent King Marke, his second-act monologue arguably the emotional fulcrum of the whole performance."
Andrew Clements

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