~By Lynne Gray, PhD~
The Met’s second week of Free Nightly Opera Streaming features the entire 2010-11 Ring Cycle on Tuesday through Friday, in addition to three other Wagner favorites. This uniquely stunning Ring Cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen) was designed by Robert Lepage and features “the Machine” – a sometimes temperamental, but always spectacular 45-ton behemoth of a set constructed of articulated steel planks that can be elevated, rotated and twisted into gigantic sculptural elements. Incredibly vivid videos projected onto the Machine create a brilliantly animated backdrop and seamlessly move us from the depths of the Rhine, to Brunhilda’s fiery mountain prison, to Siegfried’s enchanted forest and finally to the unraveling of the fabric of time and the downfall of the Gods.
The Ring has it ALL – swords and staffs, giants and dwarfs, maidens and dragons, magic and curses – and, of course, an all powerful ring. An extended family of Immortal Gods toys with Humans, Dwarfs and Giants alike through all four of the operas to their ultimate peril. Its timeless themes and gripping drama continue to this day to fascinate, to excite, and to inspire. In newer works, from the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) to John Williams’s music for the Star Wars films, modern artists continue to use ideas originating in the Ring. Their additions have become fixtures of modern popular culture and you might well want to dip into the massively creative works where it all began.
Monday, March 23
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde ~4hrs and 20 min
Starring Nina Stemme, Ekaterina Gubanova, Stuart Skelton, Evgeny Nikitin, and René Pape, conducted by Simon Rattle. From October 8, 2016.
We begin this week with the Met’s latest Tristan und Isolde. If you can get past the completely gratuitous updating to a dingy, metallic, mechanical present, you will be treated to an exceptionally well-sung opera of great musical beauty. The heroic knight Tristan (I much prefer to see him actually looking like a knight rather than some dystopian modern military man) is the nephew and heir of King Marke of Cornwall. As the opera opens, he is transporting the Irish princess, Isolde (against her will) back to Cornwall to marry his king.
The back story here is that years earlier, Tristan had killed Isolde’s fiancé in a fierce war between their two countries. The badly wounded knight (calling himself Tantris) had stumbled upon Isolde and was nursed back to health by her miraculous healing powers. When she finally realized his true identity she tried to kill him herself, but could not while he looked lovingly into her eyes. Realizing their love was forever doomed, she allowed him to return to Cornwall.
Now, in an effort to unite their waring countries, King Marke has sent his most trusted knight, Tristan, to fetch the Irish princess to be his Queen. Furious at Tristan’s betrayal, Isolde tries to trick him into sharing a poisoned drink with her, hoping to kill them both. Her handmaid, Brangäne, however, prepares a love potion instead, dooming the now hopelessly in love pair to suffer through Isolde’s marriage to King Marke, the eventual discovery of their secret love and their predictably tragic end.
If you are sensing a similarity to Arthurian legend here, you are perfectly correct. The Tristan-Isolde-Marke love triangle and the Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur triangle share the very same medieval origins, although Tristan likely came first and the lovers’ eventual ending is more deadly in Wagner’s version. Isolde’s final aria, the Liebestod (love death) is legendary as well – all on its own. It is a soprano tour de force – even after a four hour wait to hear it! Nina Stemme is one of its greatest interpreters. Wait for it if you can (or fast forward to the end if you can’t!).