Tag: Met Opera

The trouble with Tristan

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008 | All Things, Arts, Music

We arrived at Lincoln Center this evening to find another phase of the Plaza renovation underway. In addition to the plywood fencing erected throughout, both the driveway and the Revson Fountain had been closed to accommodate the construction. Click here to view a short video of what the newly transformed entrance to Lincoln Center will look like when this work is completed.

Below, the banner for Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s landmark 1980 work about Mahatma Gandhi’s formative experiences in South Africa, set to text from the Bhagavad Gita. The Met premiere coincides with The Satyagraha Project, a public forum inspired by Gandhi’s philosophies of actively engaging the world’s ills through nonviolence.

Lincoln Center construction

Months ago, we had ordered these tickets to Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde in heady anticipation of catching operatic dream team Ben Heppner and Deborah Voigt, singing together for the first time. Unfortunately, bad luck and stars’ illnesses plagued nearly the entire six-performance run of the Met revival.

To begin… Prior to opening night, Heppner, who the Times has called “the reigning Wagnerian tenor of our day,” was sidelined by an initially misdiagnosed blood-borne infection. His understudy, Canadian tenor John Mac Master, replaced him in the March 10 opener to mostly negative reviews and ill-mannered audience boos. (We disapprove!) For the second performance, Mac Master was swapped out for American Gary Lehman, who fared slightly better in his Met debut. Voigt, however, fell ill in the middle of Act II, and was replaced by Upper West Side native Janice Baird, also making her Met debut, resulting in the March 14 performance finishing out with neither of the originally billed singers in the title roles.

For our third performance on Tuesday night, Voigt was back on stage performing opposite Lehman, but the night was interrupted in the third act when an errant set piece raked the tenor into the prompter’s box. The opera was stopped while Lehman was examined by a doctor, who eventually cleared him to continue. Longtime conductor James Levine led the orchestra at our performance, and drew cheers from this New York crowd — one of the few constants in a run as unstable as a Tristan chord.

Performance #4 featured tenor #3: Robert Dean Smith in his Met debut — a Saturday matinee which was telecast in high-definition to theaters worldwide. When Heppner was finally cleared to perform the penultimate night, it was Voigt who was M.I.A. — laid low by the stomach ailment and fever that had plagued her during the second performance. (Baird, once again, stepped in as Isolde.)

And so, in an unprecedented and magnanimous move, and to celebrate the long-delayed Heppner-Voight pairing, the Met decided to stream the sixth and final Tristan und Isolde performance live on its website. Not quite the same as being there inside the opera house, but on a quiet Friday night, I’ll take it. Bravo!

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Tuesday, December 4th, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Music

Back at the Met Opera tonight for the last performance of my winter season, before resuming with Tristan und Isolde in March.

We were there tonight for Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma, an opera I’d not yet seen, despite its semi-regular rotation in the operatic repertoire. The eponymous lead soprano role in this 19th century Italian work is considered one of the greatest (and most difficult) in the bel canto canon — rife with the passion and melodrama for which opera is known. Norma tells the tragic story of a love triangle: the Druid high priestess has broken her vows of celibacy and borne two children with Pollione, the ruler of the opposing Roman army. After urging her Druid people not to war against the Romans, Norma learns that her lover has been unfaithful with Adalgisa, a young novice priestess — a betrayal which unleashes a torrent of emotions from revenge and despair to love and honor, all of which plays out against a background of war.

Norma precurtain

But somehow, we weren’t feeling it tonight. And after Norma sang her ”Casta Diva,” there seemed little reason to stick it out for the remainder of the evening.


Later that week, as I was puttering around in the kitchen, I once again heard the familiar strains of that beautiful aria coming from the television. I dashed into the living room just in time to catch the last seconds of a Jean Paul Gaultier Parfums commercial for “Le Male,” featuring the singular voice of La Callas, the most famous Norma of the 20th century.

No telling in what form the Bellini opera will return to New York: Renee Fleming recently abandoned plans to perform her Norma in a new Robert Wilson production for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2011-12 season.

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