Sunday, May 15, 2016


Somewhere, and it could well have been at the Philharmonie (so all is forgiven), I chanced upon a what's-on-Paris music magazine. I thought I'd been reasonably conscientious in scouring the internet for same, but here was the opening night, tomorrow, of a new production at Theatre des Champs Elysees (which I'd not ever been to). K had work to do. So what chance of a good single seat - a very good chance!

It's a delicious creamy Art Noveaux theatre which sweeps you not so much off your feet as certainly upstairs.

For 140 euro (Opera Australia charges 500 dollars for each opera of the Ring) you have a quite sumptuous bucket chair ...

... one level up, six rows back from the pit, excellent sight lines, a view of about half the orchestra and the conductor directly side on as well from the far side pit monitor, should you wish. Parfait.

The talk was of how the scheduled Isolde, Emily Magee (we had heard her in Britten's War Requiem in Berlin, with the partout Mr Goerne), had after three weeks rehearsal returned to the United States 'for personal reasons'. The British soprano Rachel Nicholls had come to the rescue.

It is a stark cold monochromatic production - essentially black and white / night and day / darkness and light / ego and the loss of (*). Act 1 is dominated by three proscenium height thick pseudo-steel verticals which move about - sails, cliffs, walls, castles, barriers emotional or otherwise. They were very effective. Act 2 is bare and wind swept with warped trees, curved like ancient whale bones, and a mysterious angled black ovoid object which is stripped to its shell before disappearing, like a dark force dissolving. Act 3 is a barren landscape of scattered rocks with a mummy high to the side on a wooden frame and a dominant rectangular box, a shelter, a tomb, becoming a see-through zone of transition. 

Pictures worth a thousand words:

The 'sword' is present throughout, first seen at the end of the prelude when in silhouette Isolde's attempted killing of Tantris is aborted. I assume. There is no end of debate about bringing the action or back story into a prelude, or overture, and there was some on the night re this. It was at first distracting in the what's-this-all-about sense, but I don't want to be a fundamentalist about this, or anything.

For me, the whole show belonged to Gatti and the orchestra. It was a marvellous and beautiful reading, with tremendous tension at times - the chilling scene between Isolde and Brangäne over the use of the potions capped by a spine-tingling drinking of same by the protagonists as Brangäne by force of goodness 'beamed', as of from her third eye, the love potion force into the vial of death. I peaked in Act 1 I have to confess, and Act 1 belonged to Michelle Breedt whose beautifully articulated warm and loving sister-like Bragäne totally absorbed me. 

Act 2 is the hardest to pull off I think - just what do you do with these two. This was pretty much business as usual, and that's fine. Torsten Kerl was hitting his stride (little did I know what was to come); Rachel Nicholls was a feisty young (really young) Celt now melting into another realisation; and Steven Humes stamped his Kingship firmly on proceedings with tremendous vocal authority. Round two - Mark.

Act 3 brought a Tristan of extraordinary endurance as Torsten Kerl unleashed singing of unending depth and passion the likes of which I don't think I've ever heard. Isolde's beautiful transition to another place was very much in the hands of Daniele Gatti, his fingers and hand a joy to watch, supporting Rachell Nicholls phrase by phrase as her voice, now pulled back from some of the more harsh loudness of earlier scenes, evolved into calm transcendence as she stood motionless silhouetted totally black against brilliant white.

And very fine were the others - Kurvenal, Melot (crippled, presumably to further exaggerate the capitulation of Tristan, but I'm done with the cripple thing), steersman and chorus. 

Amid the tremendous general ovation there were boos for Gatti and the production team. Idiots.

(*) I need to spend much more time on this, but it seems to me Wagner doesn't embrace complete detachment from the ego in that to aspire to selective 'joining' - as in 'I love you and only you' - in whatever sphere you care to place it is not to reject the ego but try to take it with you --- complete rejection (of the ego) is to be fully joined with everyone and everything with no exclusions and no specialness.

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