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"Ben Heppner was magnificent Tuesday night on the stage of the Canadian Opera Company. Stunning, open-hearted, in robust and thrilling voice, creating a dramatic homecoming that banished all worrisome thoughts anyone might have had about this remarkable performer. As he told several interviewers in the days leading up to Tuesday’s performance, with just a hint of belligerence and pride: “I’m back.” Indeed, he is.
"...the production itself, directed by globally renowned Peter Sellars with
videos by acclaimed American artist Bill Viola, is one of the most
dramatic, moving and resonant operatic experiences the COC has ever
"...Melanie Diener, singing her first Isolde, matched Ben, singing maybe his 70th Tristan, phrase for ecstatic phrase...her well-controlled and effortless soprano was as flexible as Heppner’s tenor...when the two of them dug into the series of duets that make Act 2 of Tristan among the most spine-chilling of all musical experiences, something close to musical perfection was in the air."
"Franz-Josef Selig projected a defeated, desperate melancholy as the
betrayed King Marke...Alan Held was powerful and menacing as
Tristan’s comrade, Kurneval, with an immense stage presence. Daveda
Karanas sang the role of Isolde’s companion, Brangane (for whom Wagner
wrote some of the most beautiful music in the opera) with conviction and
verve. And in the pit, the COC Orchestra was tightly and energetically
led by conductor Johannes Debus...Debus shaped the famous preludes to the three acts
with skill and imagination, and provided careful and balanced
accompaniment for the rest."
"...[the production's] extremely original touches – the intertwining of events on stage with events on video, the clever use of instrumentalists and singers stationed throughout the hall, the quiet, subtle action on stage – allowed us to focus on the music almost more thoroughly than we ever have before. The result – stagecraft of genius, and music of power and passion – was overwhelming."
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"It’s a transcendent experience...Johannes Debus led his orchestra masterfully,
sending out wave after wave of all-enveloping sound without ever
degenerating into bombast, while the direction of Peter Sellars used the
strength of simple ritual to focus our attention solidly on this saga
of two individuals cursed and blessed by the gods in equal measure.
"...And the sheer genius of Bill Viola’s video design offers us a non-stop perspective of images that combine nature with poetry and human beings with mythic events, pleasing the eye while feeding the mind.
"We live in a city with a truly great opera company and this production of Tristan und Isolde is a triumphant reminder of that fact. Let us celebrate it."
"With soprano Melanie Diener cast as Isolde opposite our own Ben Heppner, returning to the COC stage in triumph as Tristan, this is a treasure trove of truly impressive vocal talent, as these two most impressive singers team with bass-baritone Alan Held, bass Franz-Josef Selig, and soprano Daveda Karanas to inhabit and illuminate Wagner's tragic yet oddly celebratory tale.
"As befits such a story, Sellars stages it with stark simplicity, using
only only a few risers and the impressive lighting design of James F. Ingalls
to delineate his setting; at the same time, embracing the magnificent
talent of his cast and spreading it through the breadth and width of the
hall, transforming it into adventure in operatic surround sound. For
the rest — from sea voyages through night-time trysts and lingering
deaths — he cocoons his audience in the heart of the artistic vision of Bill Viola, who uses slow motion video footage to reinforce the interior aspect of the story.
"...For those prepared to surrender to the sheer monumental quality of the emotion, Tristan und Isolde is likely to leave you in a state of enervated exultation. Which, in the world of opera, is a pretty fine place to be."
"Ben Heppner was in grand form, hailing the love potion in clarion tones in Act 2 and bringing us thoroughly into his world of exalted suffering in Act 3...Baritone Alan Held was firm and potent as Kurwenal while his fellow Americans Daveda Karanas and Ryan McKinny produced crisp portrayals of Brangäne and Melot. The German bass Franz-Josef Selig brought astounding sound and sympathy to the potentially patience-challenging monologue of King Marke."
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"The Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Tristan und Isolde, its first in 25 years, is a feast of glorious music making. It may seem hard to believe but the singing of the cast and the playing of the COC Orchestra is so glorious that even after 5½ hours the end arrived too soon."
Video still by Bill Viola, from the Opéra national de Paris production of Tristan und Isolde. Photo: Kira Perov © 2005
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