воскресенье, октября 16, 2005


Today the NYT had an article about the future of opera recordings, which are becoming more and more expensive. They mentioned the recent release of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde on EMI Classics, which was recorded in studio during 8 weeks and must have cost more than 1 million dollars. The sole reason of being of this recording was to see how well the 64-year old Plácido Domingo, who has for the last 15 years experimenting more deeply with the Wagnerian repertoire, would deal with one of the most demanding rôles in the history of opera. In fact, it must have been due to the hardships involved with singing this rôle that the tenor who created it, in Munich in 1865, died only weeks after having sung it. His name was Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld, and he was replacing another tenor who had had a nervous breakdown or something of the kind, during the rehearsals. Von Carolsfeld's wife, Malvina, survived her husband some 30 years, leading a successful career as a Wagnerian soprano (she sang with her husband at the début of Tristan).

Anyway, I don't really want to write about these aspects of Tristan. I just want to draw attention to the cover of this "deluxe" recording, which a reviewer on amazon said that resembled "the promotional poster for a movie you would never want to see." And, truly, what the hell is EMI trying to do to Tristan? Trying to transform it into some kind of Mexican soap-opera?!?!? They already have two Mexicans in the cast (Domingo was born in Madrid but grew up in Mexico City, and a rising star in the operatic world, Rolando Villazón, who sings a minor rôle in the first act, is Mexican as well), so it is only a small step to change the language of the opera to Spanish, and to put as much make-up as possible on Isolde.

(Photo courtesy of amazon.com)

And then the NYT goes on to say that the future of opera recordings is in live recordings, and analyzes another version of Tristan, recorded at the Vienna State Opera in 2003, and released last year. I won't discuss that version either. I just want to point out one thing: what is Deutsche Grammophon (the label that released the set) trying to do to Tristan and Isolde??!??!?! Why did they have to put such an ugly painting on the cover of the disc set?! For a long time, when I looked at it, I thought that Isolde had a blue tongue, and was showing it to Tristan, until I understood that the blue thing coming out of her mouth was actually Tristan's hand (yes, Tristan is blue). How come, in less than two years, two big recording labels manage to put out on the market two recordings of the same opera with two equally ugly covers?! Where has all the good taste gone?

(Photo courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon)

At least for the DG recording, it is understandable that they would not use images from the live production of Tristan. On this link there is a review of the production, including photos, which make us long for the time when Wieland Wagner ruled over Bayreuth.

And, since we are talking about Wieland Wagner, I found this interesting paragraph in the book I am reading about Tristan und Isolde, which summarizes all this I have been trying to talk about:

"Wagner's story ends as the old legend ends, with Isolde and Tristan united in death. Following Wieland Wagner's Bayreuth production of 1962, opera houses have acquired the habit of representing the final transfiguration as a kind of glorious resurrection, so that Isolde does not die but rises with outstreched arms to greet the world, not unlike a football player who has just scored a clinching goal. This is one of many ways in which producers have tried to distort, satirize, or obliterate Wagner's message and to reduce the most sublime of modern dramas to a vulgar riot. There is a reason for this: The two experiences on which Wagner draws for his emotional material - erotic love and religious sacrifice - are no longer easily available to modern audiences without quotation marks. By offering the quotation marks, producers imagine that they have made the rest of the experience safe for us. ..."