Top-notch opera on tap

  • By Jackson Holtz Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, August 11, 2010 7:46pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Last year’s Seattle Opera season featured three Verdi performances and the world premier of “Amelia,” Daron Aric Hagen’s stunning story of flight and loss.

This year’s line up couldn’t be more different. It begins with the Wagner classic “Tristan und Isolde” and continues with a blend of the comic, romantic and fantastic. There are operas sung in Italian, French and German, and together they span three centuries.

In October, the company presents Donizetti’s tragic romance “Lucia di Lammermoor.” Then Rossini’s popular comedy “The Barber of Seville,” an opera chock full of recognizable melodies, comes to McCaw Hall in January.

February marks the Seattle Opera premiere of Massenet’s “Don Quixote,” Miguel de Cervantes’ iconic literary hero.

And finally, the season culminates with Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” an opera favorite since it first was staged in Vienna in 1791.

The curtain already rose in August on the nearly five-hour opera, “Tristan und Isolde,” the first Wagner since last year’s highly successful staging of “The Ring.”

This production exploits an otherworldly, etherial and almost hallucinogenic side of the tragedy. Some opera scholars argue whether the potion the pair shares in Act One really is a love elixir, or, instead, a deadly poison. Inspired by Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” the production this year follows the notion that once the potion meets the characters lips, the rest of the drama unfolds in the fleeting moments before the characters die.

Wagner extends those moments over three acts and hours of music — setting time in play along with his lush score.

To underscore the “Twilight Zone” weirdness of the opera, this production’s set design looks like something from the TV show “Star Trek” and the costumes reminded me of the first round of “Star Wars” movies.

It all seemed a bit ambitious and took away from the lush, soaring and gorgeous orchestral music.

The third act of “Tristan und Isolde” opens with a soulful, almost jazzy, singing English horn. The company went to great lengths to find a holztrompete, a rare wooden trumpet designed by Wagner himself. It was well worth the hunt. The rich notes of the wooden horn herald the arrival of Isolde’s ship, reuniting her with her dying lover. While the horn plays just a few notes, it was a highlight of the evening.

Texas tenor Clifton Forbis and Swedish soprano Annalena Persson sing the lead roles, but are outshined in many ways by the supporting cast, including Margaret Jane Wray as Brangane and Stephen Milling’s King Marke.

Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3447;

Seattle Opera’s 2010-11 Season

“Tristan und Isolde” by Richard Wagner, 2 p.m. Aug. 15; 6:30 p.m. Aug. 16 and 21.

“Lucia di Lammermoor” by Gaetano Donizetti, Oct. 16 to 30.

“The Barber of Seville” by Gioachino Rossini, Jan. 15 to 29.

“Don Quixote” by Jules Massenet, Feb. 26 to March 12.

“The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, May 7 to 21.

For more information or to buy tickets, go to

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