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The World of Composer Richard Wagner and his operas. www.wagneroperas.com with frequent forays into the world of art, culture, and film.

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Vincent Vargas is a foreign language teacher at a private school in New York City. He runs websites dedicated to Casablanca (www.vincasa.com) and Richard Wagner (www.wagneroperas.com).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Robert Dean Smith triumphs as Tristan

Peter Gelb and James Levine can breathe a sigh of relief. After a roller coaster week at The Metropolitan Opera that saw one Tristan get booed, and another one get injured with almost a near concussion, the Saturday matinée finally got a Tristan that could sing the role: Robert Dean Smith.

Many thought that Gary Lehman deserved the HD telecast and radio broadcast, especially after replacing John Mac Master and at the same time getting clunked on the head when he slid down the stage right into the prompter's box. Although Lehman physically looks the part of Tristan, the MET went with as much a sure thing vocally as you can these days: they got a tenor that's done the part at Bayreuth. The MET likes impressive credentials like that, especially when the house finds itself in a bind; never mind that his Green Hill reviews in 2005 were only so-so.

Robert Dean Smith made his MET debut today, two years earlier than scheduled, and it was a great success. He really did very well! Impressively well! He was magnificent in Act I (most Tristans are), he soared in Act II (most Tristans remain earthbound), and he was heartbreaking in Act III (he lived though it, and that's an accomplishment these days!) He soared above the orchestra -- which played gorgeously -- in the concluding act, and managed to get through that most difficult of music unscathed, definitely finishing much better than in the 2005 Bayreuth production.

I'm finally going to see this opera on Tuesday. I wish that Robert Dean Smith could stay for another performance, but his was a one shot deal, and I hear that Gary Lehman will be back in the role on Tuesday. Oh, well, it will be fun to see what this young American artist has to offer. Hopefully the MET's stagecraft will behave this time around.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Esther said...

I'm glad to hear it from you. I'm from Spain and last January 2008 we had the pleasure to have a great Tristan und Isolde production here, with Waltraud Meier and him, Roberdt Dean Smith as Tristan. And also René Pape as King Marke. Simply unforgettable, I don't regret to assist seven entire times to see the performance. It was simply great.

Here Robert was alternating his Tristan with John Frederic West. I could see both, but Robert Dean Smith was my choice for the role. He is tender and intense in his acting, believable and charming. And his voice is nice and bright as well. However, it is true that Frederic West has a more dramatic and strong voice, but colder...The light and pasion that Robert Dean Smith showed to all of us was further more important and more satisfying.

I wish him luck and success for his Tristan at the Met. Enjoy it!

Best regards,
E.L.B

3:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

steve smith of the times thought that RDS's voice was "gorgeous" and that he sang "with remarkable intelligence, sounding fresher and more engaged in the third act than he had in the first two."

but he thought that smith was overpowered both by voigt and by the orchestra, that his voice lacked "the heft and steel needed to cut through the orchestra."

the review ends by surmising "that he may well have made a greater impression in the broadcasts than he did in the house."

from the POV of this radio listener
he made a superb impression -- some of the best wagner tenor singing i've heard in a long time . . . so i'm wondering whether others who were IN THE HOUSE yesterday also found the singng lacking in the necessary wagnerian power

mike
mfrank@bentley.edu

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Woodstock said...

I was at one of the HD transmissions yesterday for my introductory experience at seeing opera in HD, AND also my first exposure to a Wagner production. My previous experiences with Wagner have been listening only, and I just couldn't "get it". But the price of an HD ticket is less than 25% of a live performance ticket (at least where I live) so I figured I owed Wagner at least one afternoon, and also figured I could leave if I was bored. Well, I just loved it. The camera work, and the split screen presentation caught and held my attention, and I was mesmerized by the seamless integration of music, voice, and story. I don't have anything to compare it to, no other Wagnerian singers, no other staging decisions, but for a newbie, I felt the director made several excellent choices in presenting the opera. I was quite fortunate about a year ago to attend the opening presentation of DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES at Chicago's Lyric Opera, and the last 18-19 hours or so I have been comparing the two experiences in my mind. Truly engrossing melding into a whole, the elements of music, libretto, voice, and acting. If there are better tenors, better sopranos who are skilled at Wagnerian roles, I think I have a lot to look forward to!

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robert Dean Smith was a dream come true and he simply has no competition, IMO. Yesterday’s performance had the potential to be one for the ages or so if only they had replaced the squally, hollow/ugly-sounding, and wholly-empty-of-interpretive-insight Isolde with the likes of Stemme or Meier or Polaski. Isolde aside, everyone else in the cast was superb, including Levine who didn’t wallow in slow tempi this time around.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw the HD broadcast yesterday. Robert Smith's singing was very good. The review in the Times was correct that he could not match the oluder dynamincs of Deborah Voigt at certain points. Still, I liked his performance very much, and it was even more impressive given the circumstances.
I was at the Met for a performance of Der Walkure, in which Ms Voight she sang Sieglinde, act could not match her as well.

In the beginning of the first act, Mr. Smith played Tristan as somewhat "wooden" but that clearly was designed to highlight the contrast with his happiness after drinking the love potion.

He deserves lots of praise for what he did on such short notice.

BTW, during an intermission interview, Ms. Voight said that she had not had any rehearsal time with ANY of her Tristan's. Amazing!

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A newby may have been captivated by those split screens, but for this Wagnerian they were maddening, annoying, misplaced, distracting, horrendous -- it really felt as if the director decided that no one could possible tolerate 5 hours of Wagner without multiple things to look at. And the Liebestod -- squeezing Voight down to small size -- what was that about? Please, just let us be with the singers!

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

may i ask once again an question i posted earlier: did anybody hear this performance live in the opera house and so be in a position to agree or disagree with the TIMES view that smith is wonderful but just not strong enough for a house the size of the MET or able to keep pace with a singer of the prodigious talents of voigt
--
[BTW, i understand the views of the anonymous poster who talked of voigt as if she were entirely incompetent; her vocal quality is not that of typical wagnerian, being brighter and more gleaming at the top, and a little more nasal and less chesty in the lower voice -- more like silver than old gold . . . if you're looking for another flagstad -- as i always am -- then she won't cut it; her liebestod sounds more like someone riding the waves of the ocean and less like the ocean itself . . . but taken on its own terms it's a one hell of a wonderful voice -- and she's a great singer]

-- but enough of that: did anyone hear this live?

mike

9:54 AM  
Blogger Zachary said...

I was sitting in the second parterre box on the left hand side facing the stage.

I generally agreed with the Times' comments that Smith was overpowered by the orchestra and Ms. Voigt. His tone was rich and clear and I enjoyed the sincereness of his performance, but he didn't blow me away with powerful singing.

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was only my second Tristan (I saw it at the movie theatre). The first was about 15 years ago live in Pittsburgh. Right before opening night the soprano came down with bronchitis. The company hired another soprano who had sung the role, but didn't know the staging of this production, so they had her sing from the pit and the original soprano acted the part on stage, lip-synching her. From where I sat I couldn't see the pit, so the illusion mostly worked. Some day I might see a production where the casting isn't a last-minute question mark!

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard from several who were in the house that although his voice was lovely, RSD was overpowered at the Met and didn't have a big enough voice, for the most part. There is a common feeling amongst opera lovers that those who sound excellent on recordings sometimes don't sound so great live on stage and vice-versa, and it seems to be true in his case.

Meanwhile, don't count your chickens before they hatch - Heppner is still listed on the Met's site for Tuesday night and it sounded like he really wanted to try and do the last two performances, according to his website. Any thoughts on THAT? :-)

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw the HD transmission and, unlike the Times reviewer, I could hear Voight and the superb orchestra overwhelming Robert Dean Smith at times. But they couldn't obliterate his skill as an operatic actor and his beautiful singing, not to mention the overall freshness of his stage presence.

I agree with others here that the camerawork was a mistake. A little bit was OK. But most egregious of all was trapping Deborah Voight in a ridiculous little box during her magnificent Liebestod...how can the Met approve of ANY director tying to upstage a great singer during her or his big moment? I don't get it. I really hope they do away with all the little boxes for the Blue-Ray version. But, don't get me wrong...on the whole I LOVED it.

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Vargas you mentioned the so-so Bayreuth performance of RDS in 2005.
What you are not mentioning is his spectacular performance the following year and in 2007.
I asked him about this amazing improvement in 2006, and he just laughed "practice, practice"!

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I only heard parts of the broadcast because of other commitments but I thought Smith's voice was very lyrical and that he would probably do much better in Verdi/Puccini roles. On the whole, I liked what I heard.

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recorded the broadcast and listened to it twice, in succession. (Nothing like immersing yourself in this music!). I loved RDS which is why I sought out other opinions, never having heard of him before. He was really IN the role, magnificently so in Act III, which for once was believable. There was some gorgeous tone and phrasing, so unusual with Wagner tenors (eg Windgassen). I kept thinking I want to hear him sing Siegfried.
He was overpowered, though, even with microphones, but it did not matter.
Voight was loud and uninteresting. IMO not a great musician and she does not differentiate the emotions, thereby losing characterization. IMO she also has an ugly voice (strangled chicken sound).
Now, many hours later, I am left with 1. a very moving Tristan, 2. a great orchestra, 3. an excellent conductor who let the music speak but nothing about Isolde.
But most of all, this music is incredible!!!

5:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the split-screens specifically (I don't want to comment on the singing until I've listened to it a few more times):

It seems like the set, on that enormous met stage, just doesn't fit in camera without making the singers appear tiny. I actually like the set, although it's very reminiscent if not outright derivative of the Eugene Onegin set they did this season.

But watching this on television, I appreciate the boxes if only because I can see both their faces at the same time. If they did a long shot of the stage they'd be too small, and if they cut back and forth it would be too distracting.

Just my 2cents.

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have heard RDS several times at La Scala in Milan, Floristan, amazing is the only word I can use, and Lohengrin, where adapted his voice for that role, a truly wonderful expierience. Believe me he has power in abundance when it is needed, but as a singer in the Wagnerian repertoire, you really have to pace yourself or you will have a very short career. I find RDS the best in the business, but Kaufmann is edging in the to the Wagner repertoire, so look out for him in the future. :)

4:11 PM  

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