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Just My Luck

December 13, 2008

Peter Seiffert as Tristan and Gerd Grochowski as Kurwenal
Photo: Marty Sohl/Met 2008

I can’t think of a prior opera performance I’ve attended where I’ve been excited by a replacement having to go on for an ill performer. But there’s a first time for everything, and my plans to attend Friday’s Tristan und Isolde performance at the Metropolitan Opera turned out to be fortuitous when the reportedly lackluster Isolde, Katarina Dalayman, called in sick only to be replaced by Waltraud Meier. Conductor Daniel Barenboim has been receiving rave reviews during this run for his debut performances here, and Ms. Meier, the current Isolde of choice throughout Europe, is a long standing favorite and colleague of his. So with apparently very little notice, Ms. Meier agreed to travel from Munich the night before and appear on stage less than 24 hours later in her first performance of Isolde at the Metropolitan. I will have to say she was absolutely riveting. All the hype is true. She is an amazing actress who seems to inhabit the part as much as sing it, which of course she also does exceptionally well. It may not have been note perfect, but Meier is easily the best Isolde I’ve heard with perhaps the exception of Christine Brewer. Her Liebestod was heart wrenching and really transcendent. The crowd received her with an ecstatic ovation at the end for her amazing pinch-hitting success.

Of course, this is Tristan at the Met, so the show had some notable unexpected mishaps. Meier failed to completely extinguish the torch in Act II leaving it to smolder atop the prompters box at the foot of the stage next to her just removed robe. As it continued to smoke and glow, a stage hand entered mid scene, crossed the front of the stage and removed the torch, preventing a fire and allowing the show to continue without interruption. Frankly, the show was going so well, I barely noticed. Peter Seiffert returned to the role of Tristan this evening after lukewarm reviews on opening night and two missed shows due to illness. He sounded quite good tonight and while he may have lacked somewhat in power, he cracked no more frequently than Ben Heppner had in the same role earlier this Spring. Above all, he was heroic, which is pretty much a good thing for Tristan to be. He held his own against Meier’s outstanding performance. Michelle DeYoung reprised her excellent performance from earlier this year and Kwangchul Youn proved to be an adequate if somewhat removed King Marke. Gerd Grochowski was Kurwenal and he sounded good despite a little histrionic acting. In fact, no one quite rose to Meier's level in the acting department.

I must admit that between Barenboim and Meier, this was probably one of the overall most satisfying Tristans I've seen. Dieter Dorn's minimalist, geometric set is still attractive and, though it could be a bit more involving, provides an appropriate ambiance. Some of the more meoldramatic red light flashes have been removed, and overall it works well. There are two more performances both of which Dalayman is scheduled to sing in. Even without Meier, the show is worth seeing for Barenboim's performance. Meier may unfortunately not be a part of them, but for one night, we here in the U.S. got to share in one great performance.



This was my first Tristan, and how lucky I was to be at this performance, Meier is a maniac (in a very good way!), and Barenboim conducts the music exactly how I prefer it. Up tempo, but never ever wreckless. Embarrasingly, I never heard the Liebestod until this performance, and for me it was like watching an alien exit a spaceship, wish I was familiar with it so I could be sobbing uncontrollably like everyone else was, what an amazing composition.
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