Saturday, August 18, 2012

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (concert version) (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Peter Sellars, Bill Viola, RSO)

Tristan und Isolde. Handlung in drei Aufzügen. DE 1865. Composed and written by Richard Wagner based on medieval legends. Produced by Helsinki Festival, viewed at Helsinki Music Center, Saturday, 19 August, 2012. 18.00-23.28 with two intermissions and the final ovations. Finnish / English surtitles.

Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen
Visual artist: Bill Viola
Artistic collaborator: Peter Sellars
Light design: Ben Zamora
Radion sinfoniaorkesteri / Radio Symphony Orchestra (Finland)
The Polytech Choir
Choirmaster: Juha Kuivanen
Assistant conductor: Ville Matvejeff

Tenor: Ben Heppner (Tristan, a Breton nobleman)
Soprano: Violeta Urmana (Isolde, an Irish princess)
Mezzo-soprano: Michelle DeYoung (Brangäne, Isolde's maid)
Bass: Matti Salminen (Marke, King of Cornwall)
Bass-baritone: Jukka Rasilainen (Kurnewal)
Baritone: Waltteri Torikka (Melot)
Tenor: Tuomas Katajala (Shepherd and Young Sailor)
Baritone: Arttu Kataja (First Mate)

Official presentation: "Expect an unforgettable musical extravaganza as this unique ensemble unveils their take on Wagner’s hard-hitting classic. This truly unique and sumptuously visual production of the classic work, a collaboration between conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, director Peter Sellars and video artist Bill Viola, will expand beyond the confines of the stage to take over the entire concert hall. Salonen will be conducting the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and joined by an impressive roster of soloists, including Gary Lehman, Violeta Urmana, Matti Salminen and Jukka Rasilainen."

"Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde is widely acknowledged to be one of the most significant works in musical history. The Helsinki Festival production draws on the possibilities afforded by media art and set design to bring new perspectives to this much-performed classic. The American video art pioneer Bill Viola’s breathtaking images will be projected onto an 10-metre screen. Viola’s videos breathe with the rhythm of the music and flow with the conductor and orchestra. Directed by the highly acclaimed Peter Sellars, the performers move across the concert hall, creating a powerful three-dimensional effect."

"Salonen, Sellars and Viola’s Tristan project was first performed in Los Angeles in 2004 and has since played in major cities across the world, including Paris, London, Tokyo and New York City."

Richard Wagner's purpose was that Tristan and Isolde should drive audiences mad. To Ingmar Bergman Tristan and Isolde was an uninterrupted intercourse of five hours.

Tristan und Isolde has had a powerful impact on the cinema - on Luis Buñuel, Frank Borzage, and Alfred Hitchcock, for starters. Vertigo is among other things an hommage to Tristan und Isolde. Wagner's Tristan chord, dissonant chord, and harmonic suspension were models for the sound of suspense in the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock and the suspense music of Bernard Herrmann.

Influenced by Schopenhauer and influencing Nietzsche, Tristan und Isolde belongs to a strong philosophical tradition. It is about being and appearance, being and phenomena. Bill Viola also connects Tristan und Isolde to Tantra Buddhism: the spiritualization and sublimation of reality, the experience of infinite awareness, the cosmic consciousness.

Tristan und Isolde is also a late high point in the romantic tradition. It is about day and night, confronting the passions of the night, death, and madness. It is about passion as a matter of life and death. It is about a passion that leads to disaster. It is about Liebestod. There is a performance history of Tristan und Isolde of throwing oneself perilously, even claiming lives of conductors and performers.

Esa-Pekka Salonen's interpretation is cool, brilliant, intelligent, analytic and rational. He expresses powerfully the philosophical dimension. It is an interesting approach. Not so pronounced in this interpretation: the irresistible attraction against all odds, the warmth of desire, the heat of the passion, the volcanic tension, the lure of madness, the temptation of death, the fascination of destruction.

Esa-Pekka Salonen's interpretation is cool and oceanic. Intelligent and spiritual.

Remarks on Bill Viola in a separate entry above.

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