Surely the most luxuriously sensual of all operas, Tristan & Isolde makes voyeurs of us all. This opera is being brought back to the Opera House by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for two concert performances on June 20 & 22. An international cast will be conducted by artistic director David Robertson, with Christine Brewer (USA) and Lance Ryan (Canada) in the title roles.
We presented a fully staged production of it in February 1990, conducted by Stuart Challender and directed by Neil Armfield. A vast set covered the Concert Hall stage while the Sydney Symphony sat in the area normally taken up by several rows of the front stalls. For the five performances, a remarkable all-Australian cast was led by Marilyn Richardson as Isolde and Horst Hoffman as Tristan. That season represented a high water mark in the company’s achievements to that time.
Richard Wagner wrote the libretto as well as the score; the opera was premiered in Munich in 1865. It is his most coherent creation and has had a profound effect on other composers since then. Presenting a passionate adulterous affair which ends badly, the opera had parallels with Wagner’s own chaotic sex life at the time. It is tremendously demanding on the singers, conductor and orchestra both for its complexity and length. At five hours duration it also places some demands on the audience but having commenced at 6pm, there is a 40 minute dinner break after Act One. The time flies by.
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