The Canadian Opera Company (C.O.C.) production of the Wagner’s Tristan Und Isolde is indeed splendid. While I normally concerned about ‘new’ productions nowadays, this Tristan rises to the occasion, espcecially thanks to its cast which included Ben Heppner (Tristan), Melanie Diener (Isolde), Alan Held (Kurwenal), and Franz-Josef Selig (King Marke). Music Director Johannes Debus, conducted the C.O.C. Orchestra which was also breathtaking.
In this production be director Peter Sellars, we receive minimal sets, but with a video backdrop provided by Bill Viola. While the video worked at times, especially during Isolde’s Liebestod, at other times I found it distracting and questionable. Act 2 ends with daybreak literally appearing – the video shows the sun rising through over a hill.
The cast is exceptional. Ben Heppner, returning to the C.O.C. for his first opera with the company in 17 years has never sounded better. His acting, especially during Act 3, was just as equal. He became Tristan – and the audience felt for him. It was a nice touch when Tristan sings of Isolde coming to him and waving towards him that Ben Heppner waves – Tristan truly believes that he sees Isolde waving at him and naturally waves back.
Melanie Diener sang a very convincing Isolde, and an especially moving Liebestod. Her performance was moving – you could understand her going from a woman out for vengence in Act 1 to a woman who desires nothing more than yo be with her beloved by the end of the opera.
Johannes Debus conducted the C.O.C. Orchestra wonderfully – the Orchestra is certainly now one of the leading orchestras, with a very fine conductor at its helm. Magnificant is the only word I can think of to describe the music coming from the orchestra pit.
Peter Sellars, as a director, although seems to hit some points while misses others. While the singers tend not to spend as much time a part from each other – and Ben really acts out his role in Act 3, there are points where the singers are singing towards the audience, and not to the each other. This was a bit disappointing, especially when the overall effect of the performance is so moving.
Overall, this production is certainly worthwhile seeing – and according to the C.O.C.’s website is 99% sold out. Rush seats, available on the day of performance, are likely the only option at the moment – but worthwile trying to get.
Tristan runs until February 23rd at the Four Seasons Centre for the performing arts. Check out coc.ca for more information.