If, by any chance, you were one of the people booing John Mac Master at this evening’s Tristan, git. That’s right, get out of here. We don’t serve your kind in this here pub.* Mr. Mac Master stepped in for the generally acknowledged Tristan of choice on the world’s opera stages on what I believe was short notice. He had a rough night, with some moments of admirable ardor and, in a few climactic moments at high volume, good muscular sound. Yeah, some of it was disappointing, but most of us, not being heartless boors, let it go. If you had the bad taste to think your disapproval was really that important, my writing, however little or much it’s worth, is sullied by the passing over of your eyes. Stop reading My Favorite Intermissions, and don’t come back. Get lost.
Now. Tristan und Isolde. An opera. In German.
Hard as it is to imagine such associative looseness in these parts, I think it was a review of Einstein on the Beach where I went on about how different the Liebestod sounds when you’ve come through all of Tristan to get to it. When you have climbed Mount Everest, as it were, to get to the Valley of the Dolls. Now add to this effect a long career leading up to the role of Isolde and you will begin to imagine the splendor of midnight this evening as the Love Frog ended. It was not hard to predict this success. It was nonetheless gratifying to watch it happen. Moving, I would go so far as to say, in an extra-musical way.
I'm going mostly by the second act, by the way, when I commend the whole production to you. One of those perfect standalones that's almost an opera itself. This is not because I got there late, just...I'm no longer 20 but my sleep schedule thinks I am, and I had to practically pull nose hairs to stay awake through the first act. It's bewildering to think how much of our enjoyment of an event is based on our state of mind going in, no? But the second act of Triz+Iz is kind of where it's at anyhow. Everyone gets a star turn.
Among the starriest was that of...Matti Salminen. He's the one who isn't dead, right? We used to have a terrible time trying to keep the names of the Dead Finnish Bass and the Living Finnish Bass straight. Yes, Salminen, heard here as Koenig Marke, a role that separates the royalty from the grown men got up in Burger King crowns. This I learned watching Tomlinson sing it in Chicago, surrounded by very capable Wagner singers. It wasn't that any of them were doing it wrong; it's just that he was doing it righter. Likewise I don't think I need to tell you that there is nary a whiff of onion rings about Matt Salminen, who is vocal royalty, no further questions. It's something about the ability to, well, hang on.
There's this delightful essay in last week's New Yorker about perfume, by John Lanchester. Discussing the language we use to describe sensory experience, he writes
The language of taste has, therefore, reached something of an impasse. On the one hand, we have the Romantic route, in which you are free to compare a taste to the last unicorn or the sensation you had when you were told that you failed your driving test—and others are free to have no idea what you are talking about. On the other, we have the scientific route, which comes down to numbers, and risks missing the fundamental truth of all smells and tastes, which is that they are, by definition, experiences.
And, not to say sound and smell work much the same, I've always (or at least since I started blarghing about sounds) thought the balance there should be a slightly conservative one, edging away from "her high notes are all peachy pearls and violet confit." But there's something about Tristan that makes me edge just a little the other way, and want to fling descriptors at Salminen such as "tarry" and "midnight black" and maybe even edge into the ridiculous things they call housepaints. [Uh huh, I'm trying to decide on an "accent wall" at the moment. Did you know they had a term for that?] Because in the pitch of his voice there is, verily, night. And Tristan, insofar as I can bring myself to watch the words go by during the second act--aren't they kind of wearying?--seems to be fixated with day/night.
I should say more about Voigt but mostly I'm just kind of happy for her. As one gentleman said, at intermission, "we're all rooting for her." And I would have written polite things if it had been a polite success, but it wasn't. Some of the Italian stuff has been. Isolde is exactly the right role at exactly the right time in her life. Isn't it? Did anyone else think so? Also, I think, a very good staging for someone who, while not immobile as the creatrix in this production, is not in a profound sense a stage animal.
And a very good staging for us out in the dark, too. As I am wont to say, none but the most Amelia Bedelia literal could object. I suppose I have my hesitations about the little castles and soldiers that pop up out of the ground in the last act, and yes, I'm a sucker for a big blank wall that keeps changing colors, but mostly what it does, this production, is stay out of the way and allow for some stillness without going too far into Robert Wilson territory for the "How Dare You" crowd. It sets things up well for a Liebestod whose base note, beneath the rapture, is stillness. As it should be, and as it was last night, at the end of five goddamn hours. Sorry I'm not posting this last night, by the way. It was a combination of the whole "five hours long" extravaganza and my computer being, in tribute to Tristan, on death's door.
Support was all-around pro stuff. Stephen Gaertner and Eike Wilm Schulte in particular sang it like it mattered and like they wanted people on Long Island to know it, by which I mean nobody had any audibility issues. Levine, of course, has this score tattooed on the inside of his eyelids, and received his usual hero's welcome, not least from the orchestra who stayed 'til the house lights came on, always a sign of an electric evening. Michelle DeYoung remains a voice that doesn't quite fit into my ear, but let's blame that on my ear. The Watchtower scene lacked nothing I could put my finger on.
This is pretty sold out, ladies and gents, but a lot of people apparently jumped ship last night when Mr. Heppner's fluish condition was leaked, so you might still go. Me, I may go again. It's a hard decision because, well, I'm not a Rockefeller, and also, as I once heard a lady in a laundromat say about Dulcolax, Tristan don't play. Which is to say it's not just a jaunt to the opera; it's serious business.
Intermission review: the ham & brie sandwiches at the bars are totally recommended for those moments when you realize the other sandwich shop across broadway is closed and the gongs done gung and you have four minutes to eat something. They're not only delicious, but sort of shaped for gluttony, long and thin and devourable. Oh and the crowd last night? Kind of dishy. Note to clutch of well dressed French boys in lobby: call me! Overheard at intermish: a cute young couple or possibly fag+hag discussing, with great relish, Parterre's coverage of the OONY benefit review scandale!
*By now I figure if you're down here reading the asterisk, you know to expect something irrelevant not only to opera, but to everything else as well. I just felt like pointing out that in parts of the South, maybe only Kentucky, "this here" is pronounced with a /sh/ sound in the middle, which is really weird because it looks almost like a spelling rule affecting phonetics across a word boundary, which can't happen. Anyway "right here" is pronounced "right cheer" which makes the whole thing make even less sense. Isn't that nuts?