Attending LA Opera's Tannhäuser last month, I discovered that this month the Los Angeles Philharmonic will be revisiting The Tristan Project, the collaboration between the Philharmonic, conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, director Peter Sellars, and video artist Bill Viola built around Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.
The Project first launched here in 2004. At the time, it consisted of three concerts, each comprising a performance of one of Tristan's three acts preceded by a 20th Century work influenced by Wagner. The Tristan acts were accompanied by large screen high-definition video created by Viola. Since 2004, the Project has traveled to Paris, where it was received rapturously by the New Yorker's Alex Ross, among others. Now it returns to Los Angeles, with performances scheduled to begin next week.
Acts 1, 2 and 3 will be performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on April 12, 13 and 14, respectively, each preceded by a work of Debussy. On April 18, Los Angeles receives what Paris has already had: a performance of the complete work; a second complete performance is scheduled on April 24 -- I have splurged on a ticket for that one -- before the Philharmonic heads out to Manhattan for a pair of complete performances at Lincoln Center in early May.
As described by Alex Ross above and by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp at artnet, the drama is not "staged" as such: the singers sing, but do little in the way of acting. Los Angeles will get a fully staged version at the start of 2008, when LA Opera finally revives its much acclaimed 1987 production of Tristan, with designs by David Hockney.
In The Tristan Project, Bill Viola's video accompanies nearly the full length of the work, but does not attempt to depict the action in a literal sense. It serves more as meditation, commentary or palimpsest on Wagner's themes. In a New York Times interview in conjunction with the Paris premiere, Viola indicated that he first found the score so overwhelming that he could not devise any images to accompany it; instead, he turned his attention to the text, returning to the score only as a final stage when the resulting visuals were edited into appropriate conjunction with the music.
I will have a report of my own impressions later in the month. Interested readers can obtain more information on the Philharmonic's website, here.
- Love/Death: The Tristan Project -- Bill Viola's 2006 exhibition relating to the Project, at the Haunch of Venison gallery, London. Also available from the same period: a 90-minute video of Viola talkin' Tristan at the Tate.
- Back in 2004, A C Douglas mused at length over the musical question: Is Isolde Actually Dead at the end of Act 3?