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On July 18, 2020, cameras scan the Santa Fe Opera grounds at 7:00 PM Mountain time, but only the trees and the clouds are in attendance. In this year of pandemic, artists are quarantined at home and appearing from their own parts of the globe. Tonight, the opera celebrates Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, and Ryan McKinny, who was to have sung Kurvenal, is hosting the online program from North Carolina. He greets us with a stein full of dark Bavarian brew with a silver top on it to keep it fresh until after the show. He notes that there is a dash of "Liebesgetrank" in it as he recalls his youth and listening to the black velvet voice of George London.

McKinny introduced Dramaturg Cori Ellison who explained some theories about the story. Were Tristan and Isolde in love before they drank the supposed poison that really was a love potion? Maybe those mild herbs merely let them show what they were thinking all along. Head of Music Staff Robert Tweten explained some of the musical intricacies of Wagner's score, including the fact that this opera began the revolution that would lead to a dissolution of tonality. He played Franz Liszt's transcription of the "Liebestod" with so much passion and emotion that his piano seemed able to encompass all the original orchestral colorations.

As he played, the sunset viewed through the open back of the stage was approaching its climax. The yellowish clouds reddened as they blocked out the blue sky and gathered closer and closer together with the mounting music. By the end of the "Liebestod," the red-orange clouds dissolved into purple as night overwhelmed them. Then it was time to meet the dramatic soprano who would have sung Isolde if it was not for the pandemic, Tamara Wilson.

Clad in a coral chiffon gown, wearing a silver necklace, her long red-brown locks tethered to one side, Wilson sang "Traüme," the last of the Wesendonck Lieder. While he was in the process of writing Tristan, Wagner's love interest of 1857, Mathilde Wesendonck, wrote five poems and he set them to music. Wagner characterized "Traüme" as a study for Tristan und Isolde. Tweten described it as related to the opera's love duet. Cameras shifted back and forth from Wilson to the ocean to gentle breezes rustling green leaves. To keep the evening from being overly serious, Wilson and her mother, Connie, a capable pianist, sang their finale about the old Santa Fe Trail. It gave their cameo appearance a welcome hometown touch.

Hearing these wonderful excerpts scaled down to minuscule size, only made this listener hungrier for genuine live opera with a full orchestra. When the pandemic is over and we can again hear these great voices surmounting the sound of full orchestra pits, we will remember this time as a small detour on our usual route from one great opera house to another. Our return to live performance probably won't happen this year, but it will happen and someday we will hear Wilson and McKinny sing Tristan und Isolde, hopefully with Maestro Tweten at Santa Fe.

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From This Author Maria Nockin