Malibu Seen

Soprano Linda Watson and artist David Hockney go the distance at LA Opera's marathon production of "Tristan und Isolde." Photo by Robert Millard


There are a lot of things you can do in five hours. You can jet from Los Angeles to New York. You can zip your way over to Hawaii, even drive up the coast to Northern California. Or you can go and see “Tristan und Isolde” at the Music Center. With a running time of nearly five hours, LA Opera’s lavish production is not recommended for those suffering from ADD. This is serious stuff, and at the glittering opening-night premiere, opera lovers were ready to hunker down for a major cultural extravaganza. As guests sporting poofy party dresses and satin cocktail frocks made their way inside, an opera staffer had a few last-minute words of advice: keep breathing.

Often described as a fairy tale legend filtered through adult and adulterous fantasy, Wagner’s masterpiece tells the compelling story of fatal attraction and forbidden love. While the story is intense, David Hockney gives it a kaleidoscopic visual counterpoint.

Like his earlier staging of Die Frauohne Shatten, Hockney creates a whimsical world of lollypop colors with boats, billowing sails and costumes done up in shades of tangerine and turquoise, lime-green, lemon-yellow and ruby-red.

The opera opens out at sea where we meet Linda Watson and John Treleaven in the title roles. Even amid Hockney’s dazzling sets, this production is a marathon, hard work for both the singers and musicians.

“Don’t ask me what I do the day before or after,” said music director James Conlon. “Tristan brings you out in a cathartic way. It pushes you beyond your physical limits.”

When it comes to prepping for the piece, Conlon goes with the flow. “From the minute the opera starts, I am gone in the power of that music. Because of the intensity of the emotions and the length of Tristan, you have to get into the zone. It’s a zone where the energy is created by the thing itself.”

Despite the mammoth running time and multiple intermissions, Hockney, Conlon, Watson and Treleaven kept the fans riveted. By midnight, hard-core Wagner devotees were just warming up-to the bratwurst, that is. Energized by the production, many made their way upstairs for an after-party, where they snacked on German grub and mingled with members of the cast. There were accolades all around for the famed set designer, the music director and general director Placido Domingo. Conlon apparently came out none the worse for wear, saying, “I can’t think of anything more fun than conducting a Wagner opera on a Saturday night.”

It may not have been a red eye to the big apple, but Tristan definitely took you on a journey. Best traveler’s tip for this operatic adventure is sit back, enjoy and keep reminding yourself that getting there is half the fun.