Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Guess Who

February 13, 2009

Act Three from Tristan und Isolde
Photo: Dan Rest/LOC 2009

Dear Deborah Voigt,

Why are you avoiding me? I’m not such a bad guy and I’m a big fan. Really, I am. I know their are a lot of queens out there, opera and otherwise, who enjoy nothing more than writing clever little quips about your work, but I am not among them. I think you’ve gotten a bum rap lately and had wanted to set the record straight by seeing for myself in your current run of Tristan here in Chicago. Yet, it appears our paths are once again fated not to cross. Or at least not when you’re singing Isolde. (With Opera Pacific going belly-up last year, I won't be seeing you sing Salome anytime soon, either.) Tonight makes the second time in a year I’ve tried to see your take on Isolde and twice now I’ve had to settle for somebody else at the last minute. (Of course, I've had other, lesser performers do the same with Isolde in the last year.) Last March in New York, I caught the only show you didn’t make at all during the run and got to hear Janice Baird instead. So when I arrived in Chicago for the current run of Tristan only to discover your sub, Jennifer Wilson, in place, I was crestfallen. I’m sorry to hear that you’re not feeling well, though, and I do send all of my best wishes for a speedy recovery.

How’d things go without you, you ask? Well not bad, but I wager it wasn't what it might have been otherwise. Wilson has a clear, bright tone and she was solid, particularly in the upper part of her range. I was feeling her Liebestod and I think that as her star continues to rise around the world she may become a more familiar quantity to me. She'll be showing up in L.A.'s Ring cycle next year, as well. I fear she may have been somewhat underpowered in the lower end, but she was a more-than-competent Isolde. Her acting skills were a little on the silent movie side, but I've seen far worse and many who looked more dead on stage than she did. Clifton Forbis, the Tristan, was a nice surprise as well. I saw him sing the role years ago in L.A. with some distress. But time apparently heals some things, and it looks like he’s grown into the role. He may have been a little pinched at the top, but I felt he strained less than I remember and I was rather taken with his stamina and acting commitment in the final act. The rest of the cast is good and it was the first performance in the run for Greer Grimsley as Kurwenal, who will finish out the run. The well-traveled David Hockney staging holds up and, even if you've seen it before elsewhere, it still works. It's been toned down a bit without the more controversial bits of the production such as the bit where Tristan originally stands after his death at the very end of the opera to encircle Isolde in his arms as she finishes her final note. But you can't have everything. Sir Andrew Davis is conducting, and, though I personally prefer a bit of a more deliberate and detailed approach to Wagner, the orchestra receives the biggest portion of the credit for this very successful evening overall.

So, I hope you get well soon, Ms. Voigt. There are probably many people in Chicago who will get to hear you yet over the course of these performances, but sadly I won't be among them. Perhaps some other time. For those of you in town, this well-worth-seeing production runs for four more performances through February 28.


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