NEW YORK — Wagner makes nearly impossible vocal demands on his hero in the final act of “Tristan und Isolde,” but for Stuart Skelton that “nearly” makes all the difference.
Mortally wounded and mostly delirious, Tristan must hold forth at fever pitch for 40 minutes with few interruptions, recounting his tragic life and awaiting Isolde’s arrival.
“There aren’t many breaks, but he gives you just enough,” the Australian tenor said in an interview at the Metropolitan Opera, where he opened the season in a new production. Saturday’s performance will be shown live in HD in movie theaters around the world.
“Even Wagner knew by then what was humanly achievable and what wasn’t,” said Skelton, who first sang the role this past March. “After a huge outburst … the next thing he sings is this incredibly beautiful, transparently scored section. It’s only two pages and then he goes berserk again, but fortunately not long after that I sing ‘Isolde’ and die, so we’re in relatively good shape!”
LOVE POTION NO. 9?
The plot hinges on a potion that Tristan and Isolde drink in Act 1. She thinks it’s a death potion, but her servant Brangaene has substituted an elixir of love instead. Skelton thinks it doesn’t really matter. “Whether it’s actually a love potion, or a death potion, or it’s cognac, I don’t even care,” he said. “Whatever it is they drink, it gives them the license to say outwardly what the orchestra’s been telling us they’re thinking from the minute they started playing.”
In Wagner’s libretto the first act takes place on a ship bound from Ireland to England, the second in Cornwall and the third in France. Mariusz Trelinski, director of the Met production, sets all the action aboard a modern warship complete with radar and torpedoes.
WHERE TO SEE IT
The HD broadcast of “Tristan,” also starring soprano Nina Stemme with Simon Rattle conducting, will be shown starting at noon EDT on Saturday, Oct. 8. A list of theaters can be found at the Met’s website: http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/Theater-Finder/. In the U.S., it will be repeated on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 6:30 p.m. local time.