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‘Tristan und Isolde’: Vermont’s first Wagner Opera

Last weekend was a momentous one for the arts in Vermont. The state produced its first professional Wagner opera, and it was an unqualified success. Adding to that, Vermont is home to a true Wagnerian soprano.

That power was delivered in spades Sunday when TUNDI Productions presented the colossal love story “Tristan Und Isolde” at Brattleboro’s Latchis Theater and the power and beauty of that performance, conducted by Brattleboro’s Hugh Keelan.

There are unique problems performing Wagner. First of all, he was a megalomaniac and everything is huge. Sunday’s orchestra numbered 64, and that required a reduced scoring! The writing is rich and dense with lines going on forever, but fortunately it is beautiful. And his self-penned librettos can seem ridiculous, often full of gods and metaphors.

Fortunately, “Tristan” is a relatively simple love story – but it takes four hours to tell.

That didn’t matter Sunday. It was nearly impossible not to be swept up in the passion and waves of music that carried these larger-than-life characters — at least, vocally — to their tragic and romantic demise. Soprano Jenna Rae, Keelan’s wife, was Isolde, the Irish princess who falls in love with the heroic Tristan while on the way to marry the English King Marke. (It’s a complicated story – the stuff of “legends.”)

Keelan achieved the Herculean challenge of delivering the continuous drama compellingly, and he did so by molding the singers’ and orchestra’s sounds and bringing out the pertinent lines. The orchestra, though not flawless, was professional and sounded great. The 20-member chorus sounded fine too.

This was simply a fine production of “Tristan und Isolde” and Vermont’s first of any Wagner opera. Keelan and Rae say that they hope to present a Wagner opera annually. It would benefit us all if they succeeded.

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