Our friend Sam caught one last Tristan:
Have you ever attended an opera performance and wished the awful sets would disappear? Of course, you can always simply listen to broadcasts or recordings. But nothing quite takes the place of being in medias res, especially if there's a ballet, battle or parade that you don't want to miss.
You CAN have your wish and hear it too at the Metropolitan Opera.
Score desks are located along each side of the uppermost tier next to the seats in the Family Circle boxes. They cost $10 (for regular performances). They afford no view of the stage, but they have (mostly) superb acoustics. You can hear nuances in the voices and instrumental details that sound engineers manning hi-def mikes rarely pick up. The lamp-lit desk allows enough room for a score or a libretto. If the performance is going great, the aural experience is made all the more exciting. If it sucks, you can substitute the score with a book, magazine or racing form. (Newspapers are not advised. Even tabloids are too large and make a racket when you turn pages.)
Visually, there's not much to miss in the Met's current production of Tristan, which finished its six-performance series on Friday night. The unit set is unremittingly dreary (perhaps intentionally). Brief splashes of retina blasting back-lighting give little respite. And Tristan, unfortunately, has no ballets.
Friday night, I attended my fourth Tristan at the Met in little over two weeks, and I really didn't want to spend five more hours counting all the triangular forms built into the scenery. So I acquired a score desk.
No diversions were necessary. It was arguably the best performance of the four I heard in the house, and a photo-finish with last Saturday's broadcast. Ben Heppner AND Deborah Voigt appeared together for the first time in the title roles at the house, after illness forced them each to cancel several performances. (Heppner dropped out before the season premiere; Voigt withdrew from one performance in the middle of the second act, and skipped another one entirely.)
Heppner rarely has sounded better, despite some wrongly sung passages in the second act. Voigt regained her poise and confidence, following intermittent vocal squalls in previous performances. Michelle deYoung (replacing Margaret Jane Wray), Eike Wilm Schulte, and the redoubtable Matti Salminen rounded out what turned out to be as close to a dream cast as anyone could hope for in this day and age.
But the star of the show was the Met Orchestra under James Levine. The ensemble always plays well, and frequently scales the heights, but the muses were in attendance last night: the playing was uniformly Olympian. Primus inter pares: Pedro R. Diaz in the English horn solos.
If you didn't make it to the Met on Friday night, you could have experienced almost exactly what I heard. At the last minute, the Met decided to stream the performance live via its website. That meant that opera lovers anywhere in the world with access to a computer could have heard it. The Met should do it more often -- but with a bit more advance notice.
© SAM H. SHIRAKAWA