12 March 2000

I don't propose to give a moment by moment account of the Lyric Opera of Chicago's current production of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. I will assume that you (the reader) know the plot and assume that if you DON'T know it, you will do the right thing and turn yourself into the Local Authorities and take what's coming to you- a sound beating. Unless you believe in that Reincarnation rubbish, this, my friend, is the only life you will ever live and so it follows, as Night does Day, that your sole reason to live is to listen to Tristan REPEATEDLY.

Opera was meant to be seen and heard. In the 1860s when Tristan was first performed (June 10th 1865, Munich) CDs were not widely available and even had they been, there were no CD players to play them on. Nobody had a radio then either, not even Kings and Princes- and now everyone has one. Now you can go to hear a Tristan, having listened to a wealth of recordings in the comfort of your own home. You can listen to it while jogging, doing homework, making love, driving a lawn tractor. Walk through any shopping mall in America and you are bound to hear Marke's Narration being piped from the ceiling.

Back in 1865 unless you had some sheet music and a piano, you were pretty much in the dark until you took your seat in a theatre with hundreds of other adventurous souls. You heard opera and saw it enacted all at once as the composer intended. This particular composer cared very much what you saw as he was a man of the theatre rather than the concert hall.

I am not one to forget how fortunate I am to live in a time when recordings are cheap and plentiful. A time when I can, if I wished, listen to various recordings of Tristan one after another without having to get off the couch, achieved with a remote control and a 300 CD changer. I have heard it a great many more times than Wagner or King Ludwig ever did.

To SEE it is of course much more expensive, even if it lies within walking distance. As it is not given often, in comparison to , say, La Bohème or Carmen, it may not be feasible for one to see it live even once in a lifetime. Sometimes one might wish that the curtain had never opened -- such is the disappointment in what can take place on the stage as the efforts of the singing actors, designers, directors, et al, fail to match the efforts of the composer.

Who can forget the famous Stan Laurel production of Tristan in the early 1930s, when Tristan (Oliver Hardy), summoned below-decks by Lady Isolde, slips on a banana skin at the top of the gangway and slides to the bottom where his foot gets lodged in a bucket of tar, causing him to stumble forward, tearing Isolde's dress off as he tries to save his fall, only to crash headfirst into a porthole and become lodged there? There are indeed many ways to play each scene.

I hope, if I ever get around to it, to describe some of the scenic elements of the "Zambello Production" which recently graced the stage of the Lyric Opera in Chicago. This I will do for all those unfortunate enough not to live within walking distance of that beautiful theatre, the Civic Opera House.

But not today!

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Copyright:  © 2000 Norris Adair

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