From the strains of “Here Comes the Bride” to Bugs Bunny in opera costume riding a white horse singing in “What’s Opera, Doc” to the phrase “It’s not over until the fat lady sings”, Richard Wagner’s work is rooted in Western society.
In addition to the concerts that have been postponed and other works, the 2021-22 season of the Eugene Symphony features the influential opera by the German composer Tristan and Isolde. Eugene Symphony director and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong said the three-year plan to play one act per year is possibly the biggest project the organization has ever undertaken. Lecce-Chong says they plan to deconstruct the opera so the audience can enjoy the work, as well as address the composer’s problematic story.
âThe idea of ââthis project is to take this work which is quite possibly the most influential Western artwork,â he says. âIf you think about the extent of what it inspired, of philosophy, literature, scenography, not to mention the music that changed everything, this work is truly a turning point in the history of western art.
Initially planned for the 2020-21 season, Tristan and Isolde is a three-act opera based on a medieval romantic story filled with tragedy, love and death. One of the legacies that opera has left on Western music is what is known as the “Tristan chord,” a dissonant chord that led to another dissonant chord, a big deal in Wagner’s day. where a dissonant chord would normally lead to something pleasantly harmonious.
Funded in part by the endowment of the Hult Center and drawing on the income of individual patrons, Lecce-Chong said last time Tristan and Isolde was played in Oregon 50 years ago. The concert spans three years, because expecting an audience to stand still and pay attention to a five-hour performance is in great demand, Lecce-Chong says. âEven with me as a big fan, it’s hard to pay attention to it,â he adds.
Every act of Tristan and Isolde lasts about 75 minutes but can be self-contained, Lecce-Chong says. So playing one a year for three years is a way to present some of the opera’s leitmotifs (a short musical phrase related to a person, place, or idea), as well as some of the philosophies that underlie the opera. work and talk about the influence it had. on western music.
âMy hope is really to give people – and really myself – a chance to appreciate this piece in detail,â he adds. “Otherwise, people don’t get the chance to hear it play at all, let alone a way to dig into the music and say why this piece has influenced our way of thinking and approaching the arts today.” ‘hui. “
Of course, Wagner’s story is complicated. From Wagner’s music played in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany to the composer himself anti-Semitic, Lecce-Chong sums him up as being the last composer he would want to have a beer with.
âHis own family looked down on him. He was just a horrible human being, âsays Lecce-Chong. âHe was so angry and resentful and so unsure of everything. And thank goodness he was wrong about everything besides music.
But, says Lecce-Chong, Wagner’s work had a huge influence on figures, such as Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern Israel, to Gustav Mahler, a composer and conductor who overcame the anti-Semitism of music critics and is considered one of the greatest performers of Wagner’s music. The beautiful thing about Wagner’s work, says Lecce-Chong, is that his work transcends his “tiny and narrow view of the world.” And Lecce-Chong likes to tell about the composer’s controversial past.
âPeople want to believe that the world is black and white, and it’s history that can transcend it,â says Lecce-Chong. âThat’s the kind of story we need right now. “
Tristan und Isolde Act I is April 21, 2022. Visit EugeneSymphony.Org for more information on future concerts in the 2021-22 season.