REVIEW: Opera captures the wretchedness of love with beautiful music

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Saturday the Metropolitan Opera broadcast at the Town Plaza Cinema will be Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde." The performance will begin at 11:30 a.m. (Please notice the early starting time). There will be an encore broadcast at 2 p.m. Sunday.

"Tristan und Isolde" is one of the strangest and most fascinating operas ever composed. Here is how Wagner himself described his opera: It is a tale of "endless yearning, longing, the bliss and wretchedness of love."

The setting of the opera is the Middle Ages. Tristan is on his ship, which is on the way to Cornwall. He is to deliver the princess Isolde to King Marke; they are to be married. At first, Isolde is angry at Tristan because she does not want to marry someone she doesn't even know. Before the ship reaches land, Isolde's lady-in-waiting gives a love potion to Tristan and Isolde, and they immediately fall in love.

In the second act, the lovers meet secretly, but they are discovered and Tristan is wounded by one of King Marke's men. In the final act of the opera, Tristan is in his castle in Brittany. He is ill and is waiting for Isolde to appear in the harbor and come to him. When she finally arrives, it is too late. Tristan is dead and Isolde, seeing him like this, dies, too.

So, you might ask, why would it take almost five hours to tell such a simple tale? Well, Wagner always wrote long operas and in this one, he is pushing the bounds of music to new extremes. What he did influenced many composers who came after him. The music is astonishingly beautiful and conveys all of the details of the story.

I saw a performance of "Tristan" a few years ago when I was in Rome and to tell you the truth, I was dreading it. I didn't know if I could sit in an opera house for such a long time. When the curtain went up, I was spellbound and the fascination with the opera never ended. When it was over, I knew I had seen something very special and very beautiful.

Deborah Voight will be singing Isolde in this Met performance — she is one of the finest singers in the world. It should be a spectacular performance, and I hope you will join me for one of the most emotional experiences you can ever have at the opera.

Barb Herbert of Cape Girardeau is an opera lover and host of Southeast Public Radio's "Sunday Night at the Opera."

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