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In the Wings

Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

DR. VON LYRIC – The “Other” Tristan

Nov 12, 2014 1:15:00 PM
By BLO Staff

For at least the next few weeks (and at least in the Boston area), the "other" Tristan will be Wagner's long, overwhelming, and monumental (and even at times noisy) opera as it plays second fiddle to the subtle, refined, concentrated emotions and musical expression of Frank Martin's The Love Potion. It's a fascinating contest. Wagner's opera, "...is probably the most written-about opera in history...perhaps single-handedly changing the course of classical music, ultimately opening the door to the twentieth century and atonality." Martin's piece was not even written as an opera per se, and it speaks in a mostly quiet voice. He returned to an earlier version of the story, with the libretto taken from Joseph Bédier's retelling of the Tristan legend. Having begun in 1938, Martin, in the words of one critic, "sought to distance himself from Wagner, the ideological usurpation of whom by the rulers of the Third Reich made any point of contact impossible and to provide an alternative to the larger-than-life emotions and musical opiates on offer at Bayreuth."

Point taken. But let's take a moment and recall some of that indisputable Wagnerian grandeur before we encounter Martin's refreshingly "astringent" take in BLO's production of The Love Potion next week.

First, Lennie leads the hometown band in the Prelude:

Some excepts from the fascinating 1995 Bayreuth production directed by Heiner Müller, conducted by Barenboim and strikingly designed by Erich Wonder. This performance has a rapt, mystical, ritualistic tone that even seems to link it to some of the ideas behind the BLO production of The Love Potion.

Birgit Nilsson and Jon Vickers, two great Wagnerian performers, from a 1973 production:

And to end on a less ponderous note, here's a little amuse-bouche by Chabrier. Shall we dance?

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