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Met Opera: Tristan Und Isolde at Cinema Nova

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by Donna Sue Robson (subscribe)
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Event: -
Wagner Classic with English Sub-titles
Nina Stemme in Tristan und Isolde / Image for Sharmill Films

The Met Opera's award-winning series of operas captured in high definition continues for its 11th year. This season, five new productions are featured - Wagner's 'Tristan Und Isolde', Gounod's 'Romeo et Juliette', Dvovak's 'Rusalka', Strauss's 'Der Rosenkavalier' and the Met premiere of Saariaho's 'L'Amour de Loin'. Tristan Und Isolde has been chosen to launch their 2016-17 program and screens nationally from November 5th at Cinema Nova, Melbourne.

Met Opera classics screen concurrently with the New York Metropolitan opera 2016-7 season which not only enables world-class operatic talent to connect with audiences globally, but through cinematic digital technology allows this ever-romantic, European art-form to maintain the power and immediacy of 'live performance' and theatre staging.

Tristan Und Isolde is a tragic love story, spiced with murder, deception, betrayal, denial, kidnap, enforced marriage, war- and most importantly- a wrongly administered love potion. The story progresses through operatic melodrama, laden with all manner of unbelievable scenarios and ill-fated slapstick co-incidences. Narrative 'reality' aside, the power of opera is in its musical tension that is achieved through orchestral crescendos and cadences. Wagner, often 'criticised' as being 'heavy', understands and is well suited to this genre.

Those less familiar with opera but who want to experience it, are well-advised to see Tristan Und Isolde as well as other Met cinematic productions because the films are subtitled making the plot and language easy to follow. This feat to convert opera to HD cinema is a brilliant way to popularise this art form which is traditionally high-brow and expensive. Film may also appeal to modern audiences, well-acquainted with the close-up style of focus; 'the big screen' naturally emphasises facial expression and definition so that the actor within the singer can be truly appreciated and audiences can become more involved with the characters and their humanity, rather than relying on musical drive alone.

Opera devotees will delight in the 5-hour and 13 minute running time of Tristan Und Isolde and newer audiences should be warned. However, the show is punctuated by two intermissions, which give enough time to refresh so as to re-engage with a virtuosic treatment of a masterpiece.

Tristan Und Isolde is conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and Nina Stemme is his chosen Isolde, a role that she has virtually made her own. Tristan is played by Australia's own Stuart Skelton, who also sang Siegmund in the Met's Ring cycle in 2012. The cast includes Ekaterina Gubanova as Brangane and Evgeny Nikitin as Kurwenal, both of whom make their Met debuts in this new production. Ekaterina's acting talent well-supports her leading lady but also highlights her own intense connection to dramatic art. Rene Pape plays King Marke, a role that he has also sung to acclaim in three previous Met seasons.

I found the staging of Tristan Und Isolde distracting, even though I was aware of Met's intent to give the story a modern context and inspire mass appeal. It was confusing to try to sort historical context against modern styling decisions. However, linear time and historical context is not really the point of an operatic epic; it is and will always be about the composition, orchestration, virtuosic performances and drama for drama's sake alone. English translations that jarred and stylistic decisions were never part of the Wagner vision and are not a criteria upon which the production should be judged.

Tristan Und Isolde's sublimely talented cast are ably directed by Mariusz Trelinski and combine to once again declare Opera season as 'open'. This production firmly establishes Met Opera as a premier international company and transforms New York as an Opera city of the 21st Century.

The complete Met program also includes Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' and 'Idomeneo', Verdi's 'Nabuco' and 'La Traviata' and Tchaikovsky's 'Eugene Onegin'. The entire Met season runs from November 2016-August 2017 and is distributed by Sharmill Films. Check website details for screening times as they are subject to change. Melbourne tickets are now on sale.
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*Donna Sue Robson was invited as a guest
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Why? To make a booking
When: Various
Where: Cinema Nova, 380 Lygon Street, Melbourne
Cost: $28 full price, $26 concession, $15 for -15s
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