Monday, July 19, 2010


With rehearsals beginning tonight in the theater for Tristan und Isolde, it's time to begin checking in with the singers. Let's start with tenor Simeon Esper, pictured right as the Young Servant in Seattle Opera's 2008 production of Elektra. As the a cappella voice of the Young Sailor, Simeon is the the first person to sing in Act One of Tristan (and, as the Shepherd, he's the first person to sing in Act Three.)

Welcome back to Seattle, and congratulations! Since the last time you were here (last summer, covering Loge in the Ring) we hear you’ve become a dad. How’s that going?
SE: Well, it gives me a whole new subtext for my line in Tristan, “Weh', ach, wehe mein kind!” [Woe, alas, woe, my child!]

When you aren’t in Seattle, you’re often to be found near Dresden. Do you get to see and/or sing in lots of Wagner productions in Europe? We’re always hearing stories about how far-out some of those productions can get…
SE: Yeah, I've seen and been in a few, most memorably, a Flying Dutchman where I had to hop-scotch around a checkerboard stage as the Young Sailor...and another that apparently took place in a Wiccan cult complete with blood-sacrifice. I mean, in a country with 90-something opera companies, you can't blame directors for trying to bring fresh new perspectives to the material...even if it doesn't always work out right (or make sense) in the execution!

You sing two small roles in Tristan und Isolde, the Young Sailor at the beginning and the Shepherd in Act Three. Are these parts always sung by the same tenor? Do they have anything in common?
SE: They're not always sung by the same guy, though I think it’s a good idea if they are. I think they are in fact quite similar; in an opera full of these heavy, complex monologues, these two guys are just sort of young and innocent, and sing (and play) simple, melodic tunes. Kind of a na├»ve counterpoint to everything else that's going on in the world of Tristan!!

Who has a better song, the Tristan Sailor or the one in Flying Dutchman?
SE: I like both of Wagner's Sailors' songs, but I think they are completely different in character; the Dutchman sailor sets that opera off in a really earthy, physical, nautical world, and the Tristan sailor immediately establishes that we are on a more dreamy, ethereal plane, psychologically and harmonically. Both are kind of mood-setters for the entire piece, and it’s a really effective way to launch both operas.

What’s your favorite part of Tristan und Isolde?
SE: I'm a sucker for the overture to the third act. I think it’s some of the most dangerous music ever written.


  1. Hallo, SE & Jon!!
    Interesting interview!!
    1) The introduction to Act III of Tris&Is is NOT an overture; they come top a full stop, but a prelude or an introduction.
    2) Re the often ridiculous stagings in Germany (I live most of the year there {Schwerin} and see productions in many houses there {retiree privilege} and long to see the works done like the composers and librettists intended {why did Wagner write such detailed stage directions if he wanted the stage directors to "Mach' 'was neues" in STAGING his operas??}). Icome to Seattle because the stagings here are full of ideas, practically all of which are "werktreu"!! That's alsowhy I moved from Bonn to Schwerin when I retired in 1999!!
    Win H.

  2. Hallo, again, ES & Jon:
    1) It is the critics in Germany who want the far-out "werkuntreue" productions that hardly resemble the original opera, not the average opera-goer!! I know this from my volunreering in the Schwerin (Germany) Theater Shop, where fans come from places like Hamburg, Hannover, (yes!) Dresden, and even Berlin to see werktreue (true to original) productions because they don't get them at home, while Schwerin remains a bastion of werktreue productions.
    2)I ran out of time at the Central Library computer yesterday, so I didn't get to elaborate on my comment that an Introduction/Prelude/Vorspiel to Act III of "Tristan & Is." could nnot be an "Overture". Not only does this Intro not come to a full stop; it is also not at the very beginning of the opera (where "Overtures" are placed. A piece that comes to a complete stop in the middle of an opera would be an "Intermezzo" or "Entracte".
    Win H.
    P.S. Toi, toi, toi, ES for your YoungSailor/Shepherd!!

  3. Hallo, again, SE!!
    Sorry I got your initials reversed, SE!!
    H. Win