Lehman does Tristan....
An internet correspondent, REG, was in the house to hear Gary Lehman (hero of last seson's star-crossed Tristan run), sing his first Tristan of this season on Tuesday night (12/2/08), replacing an indisposed Peter Seiffert:
. . . . Almost as interesting was tonight's performance of Tristan. The MET, I think, is already experiencing revival-itis with this production, and much of the problem has to lie with Baron Danny-boy, who led an at-best fitful performance. When Mozart died, the young Beethoven, who had hoped to study with him and was instead shuttled off to an older and somewhat less-motivated Franz Josef Haydn, was told by his patrons, "Receive Mozart from the hands of Hadyn." I suppose in going to Danny-boy performances, I always expect to be somehow handed performances of the depth and complexity of Furtwangler, but in the event he almost consistently disappoints, and tonight was no exception. While I think as a pianist he remains, when he is in technical fettle, first-rate, his major limitation as a conductor is that he has, essentially, the attention span of a gnat - at any given moment, there can be a lovely emphasis (he particularly seems to favor the darker woodwinds, and the strings sounded heavenly towards the end of Act II when Tristan turns to Isolde and asks her if she will accompany him in exile), but he doesn't ever seem to 'see' these details against each other, or in terms of a larger structure, and so solecisms and musical tautologies abound....I thought that the entire first part of Act III might never end, although Gary Lehman himself did a wonderful job as Tristan. A pianist can get away with moment-to-moment insights in recital, in quicksilver differences in touch and musical underlinings, but a conductor cannot so easily do so. I thought the orchestra sounded well, but it didn't have either the glow that a great Levine performance can have, or, for that matter, the warmth I'd hoped to hear from the Baron.
As to casting, I thought Lehman did a more-than creditable job in the house. The sound isn't particularly clarion, or even highly colored - he is clearly not a pushed-up baritone - but he (almost) never tired, and he saved enough of himself to be impressive indeed on stage in Act III, even with a few moments where he lost focus. If Peter Gelb's Dram Shop ever opens, I'm afraid that Katarina Dalayman is most likely to be found at the Kool-Aid counter - she has almost all the notes, and she's obviously listened when people have told her to move, but as to the singing, it was largely dispassionate and, frankly, not much more than dutiful - if she felt the role, she certainly didn't share it. If Voigt has some moments of vocal frailty, she is still an Isolde in bearing and line, and can dominate the orchestra and the music where she has to. Michelle DeYoung is a fine singer, but I thought the voice smaller (or was the orchestra louder?) than last time around, and this is a tough role if you don't make a real impact in the middle of the voice. Rene Pape was passionate and made a lot of the words (particularly in the upper half of his voice), but though Marti Salminen isn't the superstar the Pape is, I thought Salminen's King Marke a far greater accomplishment - the voice was more solid, the bearing more regal, and interpretively Salminen knows that an effective interpretation starts from a single point of view, and not a kaleidescope of individual moments. But you know me, I'm not complaining.
The production has been tampered with a bit - most obviously the various-colors of lighting seem to have been eliminated in favor of a recourse at moments of emotion to yellow verging on chartreuse, and more unfortunately, the crespuscular darkness of Act II and the hieratic staging, which were all of a piece, have been sacrificed to something both more neutral, and naturalistic, at the cost of some of the sense of suspense and wonder in that critical scene.
Heads up to listeners to tomorrow's MET broadcast --- Mr. Lehman will be singing Tristan (finally getting his due...), but (and it's a big caveat) Pape has canceled and Youn is singing King Marke.