Theater Reviews

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L.A.Opera at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Through Feb. 10

From the cello's first scarcely audible notes as the lights dwell coolly on David Hockney's blue-green shipboard set, the tangible quality of forlorn longing and cruel need surround the bereft Isolde as she huddles in the light of a frigid dawn.

Her affianced husband is dead at the hands of Tantris, a culprit whose wounds she has tended, and Tantris now brings her by sea to Cornwall to be the wife of his father, King Marke.

When Isolde comes to the realization that Tantris is really Tristan, she begs her woman to pour two cups of poison that will kill her and her despised tormentor. But wait! Poison potions become love potions in the hands of Brangane, and the enemies find themselves desperately, hopelessly bound by love.

Until Act 2, one gets the impression that the voices emanating from that cold vessel are coming from some great distance. Thin and unidentifiable as to origin, one has to wonder what we're in for.

Things warm up when Act 2, notoriously passionate in its music -- so much so that 19th century audiences were shocked by its sensuality -- brings us a 40-minute duet to the death, the only possible or moral solution to the overwhelming and powerful love to which Tristan and Isolde are now condemned.

John Treleaven and Linda Watson unite their voices breathlessly and in glorious harmony in their "Liebesnacht," celebrating their night of love, topped only by Isolde's "Liebestod," the love-death hymn that she sings over Tristan's body as they are about to be united in death.

While light and dark are the emblems of this transcendent love affair, the color and sweep of Hockney's fantastical setting, refurbished from the 1997 production, lend a depth to the scene that resembles the almost-light and shade represented in a Victorian painting, the kind that eschews highlights. But nevertheless, Hockney outlines the stark, darkened trees of a forest, and the lonely castle walls as the sun leaves the sky, lingering only on the startlingly bright red dress of Isolde as she's slowly lost to curious eyes.

Toward the witching hour, some scenes drag mercilessly, seeming to cover the same ground too many times, but one has to agree that, if nothing else, this is an opera that was deeply felt by all concerned: singers, conductor, orchestra, director and designers ... and audience.

TRISTAN AND ISOLDE
L.A. Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Credits:
Composer-libretto: Richard Wagner
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Thor Steingraber
Set designer: David Hockney
Lighting designer: Duane Schuler
Associate conductor/chorus master: Grant Gershon
Los Angeles Opera Concert Master: Stuart Canin
Fight director: Jonathan Rider
Cast:
Young Sailor: Gregory Warren
Isolde: Linda Watson
Brangane: Lioba Braun
Kurwenal: Juha Uusitalo
Tristan: John Treleaven
Melot: Brian Mulligan
King Marke: Kristinn Sigmundssson
Shepherd: Gregory Warren
Steersman: Matthew Moore
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