Lyon gives Wagner's Tristan a "moving" production

Tue Jun 7, 2011 6:42am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LYON, France (Reuters Life!) - Richard Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde" is a notoriously static opera whose two central characters mostly stand on stage singing for almost four hours.

In a new production at the Opera de Lyon that had its premiere on Saturday, they do it on a set that does the moving for them, and over the course of the evening they and the audience are transported to a Wagnerian heaven.

Director Alex Olle of the Catalan stagecraft-and-spectacle collective "La Fura dels Baus," which leapt to world renown with the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and has since branched out into opera, has found a way to give Wagner's famously inert work legs in a production that runs through June 22.

His staging of the tale of the doomed love between the Irish king's daughter Isolde and the knight Tristan is not an unqualified success, as even Olle volunteered.

"Maybe I put in a few too many things, but this is my first Wagner (opera), and for me it is all about the passage of time," Olle, who stepped in to do the production on short notice when a previous director withdrew, told Reuters after the premiere.

One of those few things too many is a ring of fire encircling the doomed lovers. It's Wagner, yes, but wrong opera.

The opening night audience nevertheless was spellbound as Olle deployed one visual effect after another, many of them video projections, all tending to trick the mind into overlooking that this is indeed what opera skeptics fear most -- two people standing and singing for hours on end.