So I saw the Met's Tristan und Isolde in HD on Saturday, and was relieved to see there were no casualties after the run of bad luck that's plagued the production. Robert Dean Smith had stepped in as Tristan #4 after the first three had all been incapacitated or replaced. At the first intermission, Deborah Voigt joked a bit with Susan Graham, who hosted the backstage features, about singing Isolde opposite a different Tristan each time. She'd never even met the previous Tristan, which, she said, "made for some interesting love scenes!"
I'm (still) not one of those people who flip out over Wagner, but I'm starting to see what the fuss is about. Despite the crick in my neck I got from sitting at the end of row 3, it somehow didn't feel like an endurance test, even after five and a half hours. It was the duet in Act 2 that made the whole afternoon, for me: it was like being swept out to sea. (In a good way.) Act 3 didn't overwhelm me to the same extent, mostly because so much of it is Tristan's, and while I loved Deborah Voigt, I was lukewarm toward Robert Dean Smith. (One has to make allowances for his having been flown in at the last minute, but still.) But it reminded me that, great big nerd though I am, opera isn't so much a cerebral experience for me as it is a visceral one.
Last time I went to a Met broadcast, I found that the experience was better than it might have been if I'd been there in person. This time was a little more 50-50. On the plus side: comfortable seats, watching James Levine conduct, and seeing so much in close-up. On the minus side: annoyingly intrusive camera direction, particularly evident in the director's penchant for split-screens (sometimes as many as six little boxes on the main screen at once); also, not nearly as much "screen" acting from the leads as there was in the Grimes broadcast. There were production elements I liked, especially the lighting change to bright red as Tristan and Isolde drank the potion in Act 1, and one or two that made me scratch my head (what was up with the little model castles and knights all over the stage at the beginning of Act 3?).
And the other nice thing about seeing it in the theater instead of listening on the radio was the sense of being part of a movie audience, munching on a box of Junior Mints and striking up conversations with the people next to me as we waited for the lights to go down. I spotted one fellow audience member in the theater's ridiculously chichi cocktail lounge studiously reading what looked like a complete score. And really, how often does one see that?
[Edited to add: Alex Ross of the New Yorker has a terrific column on the production, pointing out the fine line between operatic triumph and inadvertently hilarious disaster. I'd never heard that story about Leo Slezak missing the swan boat in Lohengrin, but oh how I wish I'd had a chance to see it.]