Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two (aghrivaine) wrote,
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two

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Tristan und Isolde

Last Wed night I saw Tristan und Isolde at the LA Opera. Tristan und Isolde itself is considered one of Wagner's great works; his ode to love and ecstasy that for 60 years after he wrote it was considered unperofrmable because of its complexity and extraordinary demands on the singers. Never the less, it was performed, and has been many times since; and was the personal favorite of a real opera aesthete that i had the privilege of knowing. (Never forgotten, Lord Manwoody!)

The LA Opera House itself, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is a magnificent structure in downtown LA, next to the Disney Concert Hall and the Ahmanson Theatre. The tickets, however, are quite expensive; without breaking the bank I couldn't get close to the orchestra level. I spent a fair chunk of extra change to get better seats on the first balcony - but even so I was situated in the very last row, one seat in front of someone who'd pay $60 less to see precisely the same thing. I certainly miss the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra Hall, with its generous seating and powerful acoustics - though even it is no longer in use, replaced by the Kimmel Center. Seeing the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra was incredibly stirring; I could feel the music vibrating in my chest, the experience was whole-body and recorded music is simply no comparison. The Chandler Pavilion doesn't offer anything like that experience, particularly from way, way up.

Never the less, after an excellent dinner at the Pacific Dining Car we settled down amidst the crowd, which was curiously evenly mixed with young people and old folks, to see the show. Tristan und Isolde's opening prelude is beautiful, soaring, hinting at the slow build up of tension to a faster and faster... err, climax? Well, that is what the opera is all about, after all. The curtains came up on incredible sets; an halluciinogenic impression of a ship in lurid colors and trompe l'oeil illusions. The actors... well, there's a certain tradition to operatic stars that, shall we say - the LA Opera has upheld quite unmistakeably. Honestly, once the singing started, I found the first act hard to pay attention to; the combination of unappealing costumes, uninspired singing, and physical presence of the performers that contrasted with their roles as romantic figures... I found it hard going.

The second act, however, is entirely different. Tristan and Isolde (despite consistently referring to themselves in the third person) manage to get together. Their love duet is justly famous; they trade back and forth a song about love so annihilating that only death or oblivion can complete it. The music itself is particularly beautiful (though the predominance of words in German that end in "-st" must be awfully hard on the singers - just try and spit out a few of those at top volume and you'll see, you can feel it in your belly!) and allowed these singers, at least to soar up into a more lovely and melodious sound than the first act permitted them. Suddenly their ill-fitting wigs, dowdy costumes and unromantic physiques were irrelevant, and the crazy love that they were destroying themselves and each other for was far more visceral.

Sadly, it had grown so late, and we were so tired (and bound early for Disneyland the next day) that we slipped out after the second intermission. We missed the finale, Isolde's Liebestod, widely regarded as some of the most stirring and inspiring music opera has to offer. In it, the uncompleted and slowly building tension of the first two acts comes to its crescendo - and incidentally, the actors and story are dragged along, too. In Tristan und Isolde, the music isn't just an underpinning or accompaniment, it's one of the characters. I'm sorry I missed it - given my choice I'd rather skip the first act than the third.

None of the clips I've linked to here, by the way, are the actual LA Opera performance - just good examples I happened to find on youtube.

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