Stage Director
Another triumph

Before Romeo and Juliet, the most famous star-crossed lovers were Tristan and Isolde.

They were so heartbreakingly tragic and romantic that it's no wonder composer Richard Wagner wrote a musical homage to them in his opera "Tristan und Isolde."

While Lyric Opera of Chicago has presented Wagner's lush, lyrical opera before, this "Tristan und Isolde" revival stands out because of soprano Deborah Voight's stunning vocal prowess and power.

Very few sopranos can sing Wagner's demanding notes and, in the role of Isolde, Voight's golden vocal richness soars.

Her final aria in the opera is so electrifying that she brought the opera house to a standing ovation.

The production also stands out because of Clifton Forbis velvety baritone as Tristan.

The role of Isolde's lover also is a difficult part to sing, and Forbis more than does justice to the vocal demands of Wagner's Tristan.

Indeed, the combination of Voight and Forbis is so enchanting that the four-hour plus opera moves with lightning speed.

The tragic romance of "Tristan und Isolde" is based on a Celtic myth that centers on an Irish princess and an English knight.

In that tale Tristan is injured and almost dies after a battle, but is nursed back to health by Isolde.

In the legendary Irish story, the two fall madly in love because they are drawn irresistibly to one another as lovers have a tendency to do.

But, in Wagner's operatic version, Tristan and Isolde fall in love after drinking a magic love potion. Wagner thought that a magic elixir would lend a fairy-tale twist to the story.

Of course, true love never runs smooth, which is why King Marke has to get in the way of the lovers.

Marke is pledged to marry Isolde and, since he has been like a father to Tristan, the love triangle has all the makings of great tragedy.

Set against David Hockney's steep, raked stage and lavish velvet costumes and with Duane Schuler's colorful lighting, "Tristan und Isolde" evokes a storybook landscape.

Besides the stunning performances by Voight and Forbis, Stephen Milling comes through with a stirring deep base that highlights his depiction of Marke.

In addition, other contributors (in their Lyric Opera debuts) include German mezzo Petra Lang in fine voice as Brangane, and American baritone Jason Stearns through Sunday (Greer Grimsley from Feb. 12 to 28) as Kurwenal.

In Sir Andrew Davis' masterful hands, the Lyric orchestra is in perfect pitch.

And, sensitively directed by Jose Maria Condemi, this production of "Tristan und Isolde" marks another Lyric Opera triumph.

Betty Mohr, Southtown Star (Chicago)
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