Paris boos an American Isolde

Paris boos an American Isolde


norman lebrecht

January 18, 2023

ForumOpera reports that the inexperienced American soprano  Mary Elizabeth Williams faced boos and whistling at the Paris Opera revival of the 2005 Peter Sellars production of Tristan und Isolde.

Williams sang her first Isolde only a few months ago in Seattle.

Michael Weinius sang Tristan. The revival was conducted by music director Gustavo Dudamel.

More here.

press photo:  Sunny Martini/Seattle Opera

UPDATE: More boos for Isolde


  • Una says:

    Shame on them! Such bad manners.

    • SVM says:

      Provided that the booing did not interrupt the music itself (as it did in a notable incident at Covent Garden last year), then it was perfectly fair game. The risk of being heckled comes with the territory of performing on stage, especially in opera.

  • Guest says:

    What is the likelihood that Peter Sellars insisted Isolde should be a black woman in his “production” this time around?

    • gareth says:

      As opposed to insisting on a white, amply proportioned 40-something Nordic brunette pretending to be an Irish teenager?

      • Guest says:

        As opposed to not suggesting a certain racial profile at all! Are there many capable Isoldes out there, of any skin color? This is far from the first time he specifies the race of a cast, and the shtick is getting old.

    • Emil says:

      ‘Actually, I’m going to pretend this story is all about my fake issue!’

      This is like outrage mad libs.

    • Tristan says:

      His production is so weak and after seeing twice one can get his mediocre performance
      Black Lives Matter totally agree and VIP but not the way those bankrupt companies deal with it
      Poor singer was pushed into it and it sounded awful like lots last night – poor Wagner and poor sophisticated audiences if such still exists

      • Clem says:

        What a load of pathetic google translate nonsense. What on earth is the link between this production and Black Lives Matters? People like you are the reason I hate to go to the Bastille opera. I attend performances in dozens of opera houses all over Europe each season, and there is no audience more ignorant, arrogant, provincial and backward than the pompous Paris would be bourgeoisie that fills this ugly bastion.

    • Don Carlos says:

      That has the smack of racism

  • Anne Midgette says:

    She’s far from an inexperienced artist – she’s terrific. It’s a light voice for Isolde (which may be what the booers didn’t like), but I for one would love to hear what she does with the role.

    • guest says:

      Audience feedback:
      “Très pénible soirée. Une Isolde innommable bien chahutée aux saluts. A l’exception du marin/ berger, aucun chanteur n’est au niveau attendu. Dudamel peu inspiré et insipide.”
      “Et bien…. maigre, très maigre bilan. Une isolde innommable…. Incroyable. Il y a des isoldes dans le circuit.”
      “Je suis toujours indulgent pour les artistes. Mais là, je dois reconnaître que l’Isolde est une catastrophe avec une voix laide et criarde, fausse dans l’aigu.
      En revanche , j’ai bien aimé Dudamel”
      “J’ai adoré Isolde ! Ovationnée par une partie de la salle ! Huée par certains !”
      “C’est une blague ? Un cochon qu’on égorge ? Moi elle me fait souffrir.”

    • Tristan says:

      she was mediocre but didn’t deserve the boos – overrated Sellars got them and also Dudamel overrated also
      It’s more about political correctness nowadays and nothing else – no audience will be seen in a few years
      Those who thanks to the media made a name are killing it

    • TruthHurts says:

      I was present. The booing was due to a sub-par performance. She would be fine in Wiesbaden or Bielefeld. Why lower our standards? She couldn’t even have been the 15th cover for Nilsson.

  • Dominic Stafford says:

    It’s not hard. If you don’t like it, don’t applaud. Don’t boo, whistle, hiss or throw a hissy fit.

    • The View from America says:

      Agreed. With few exceptions the musicians are trying their best, even if the results aren’t stellar.

      (On the other hand, booing lustiily in response to the premeditated travesties that count for “enlightenened” staging these days is very much in order.)

    • Tristan says:

      agree or boo the management

    • Nick2 says:

      Why not? I attended the disastrous Ponelle Aida at the ROH in the mid-1980s when Pavarotti was very much off form and cancelled the second performance, and Valentini-Terrani was consistently flat throughout the evening. As bad, there was no Grand March and Mehta played it like an orchestral interlude. The booing and cries of “rubbish” were as vocal as I have ever heard – and thoroughly deserved!

      • JRHB says:

        Although Valentini-Terrani wasn’t in that production….

      • Gareth Morrell says:

        Wasn’t Katia Ricciarelli the Aida in those performances? That role wasn’t successful for her, but she was very good as Desdemona under Colin Davis

      • Ernest says:

        Perhaps you mean Ricciarelli? I don’t think Valentini-Terrani sang in Aida except as the Priestess on disc.

        • Nick2 says:

          Apologies to all and to the family of the late Lucia Valentini-Terrani. As others have correctly pointed out, it was Ricciarelli in that Aida. My error.

  • ET says:

    Perhaps they are offended by cultural appropriation?

  • Oded says:

    She is a great artist. so, they bood… what. there is something such as artistic merit and that will prevaile in the long run

  • Mr. Fox says:

    America has dozens of legendary opera singers in its history. Has the world’s best orchestras and the very best opera house.

    Not to mention D-day.

    Who do the French have? Zero. Rien.

    • Mick the Knife says:

      They have the Dude. The Dude produced a dud. So what? It was only a 200e ticket.

    • Tristan says:

      You must be joking as not one house on the US matches even second rank houses in Europe
      you must be deaf – the best ten European orchestras are better than number one in the US
      The MET is a monster and will end up like Titanic as ruined also by incapable Gelb
      Wake up man

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        No, you’re wrong. I’ve heard all of the world’s best orchestras within the last 12 years and the CSO and NYP are equal to all of them – the former actually being better, IMO, than most.

      • Veronica Bell says:

        That is a giant generalization. I wonder how many productions you’ve seen your opinion is based on. As for me personally, I just came back from a long European trip, and the productions I saw in Prague and Vienna were terrible. Le Nozze di Figaro at the Garnier was great. But oops, it was originally a MET production. So, yeah, you know….

    • Barry says:

      “Who do the French have?”

      Better manners.

    • The View from America says:

      Yes, they think so highly of America that they imported Dudamel to be their chef d’orchestre.

      … no matter that there are a goodly number of French conductors who can direct circles around GD in opera. But of course they don’t have the “exciting” back-story …

  • Singeril says:

    Not commenting on her singing since obviously we can’t hear it. But, I’m not sure how any singer looks “good” in this “production”. While trying to sing and express the story, a giant screen looms behind them with videos being the focus. In the first act, alone, there are much larger than life videos of naked actors walking towards the camera…nothing left to the imagination. Few people are watching the singers, to be sure…and, if they are, the singers are not allowed to do much of anything…pretty much, just stand and sing. I’m not sure, in this Paris remount (this production dates back to 2004 in L.A. with EPS conducting the LA Phil at Disney’s Hall) if they’ve refilmed the Isolde so as to have her be the same “race” as the singer. It would be sort of incongruous if they haven’t. This is at least the 3rd or 4th remount of this “production” in Paris. It’s aggravating to many who want to enjoy this incredible opera but keep getting this same Sellars thing…over and over. It is difficult for a singer to have a success in this production. I’m not saying that is the issue here…but it’s time for Paris to get a new production.

    • Tristan says:

      It’s a poor production indeed but the unfortunately she was a total miscast and the boos go to the lousy direction of the dying Parisian Opera – the last good chef was Hugues Gall as with Mortier bad singing and conducting began (just awful in Salzburg) and we don’t need to say a word to good about Lissner than useless wherever he was

    • Sue sonata form says:

      I remember seeing a Sellars Bach St. Matthew Passion from the BPO. It reminded me of primary school kids whose hands and arms moved as they sang nursery rhymes. “Like a bird soaring in the sky…” (hands and arms up and over). Embarrassing shlock, but GREAT singing and playing.

    • sonicsinfonia says:

      More than 3-4 revivals, I think, plus numrous tours of the semi-staged version, which is essentially the same thing without the props. At its best, it is an incredibly powerful production – the Liebestod in particular is almost what I hve always imagined in my head while hearing the music. You are right that the audience focus a lot of the time on the video but it is wrong to say the performers are not very carefully directed by Sellars.

  • Morgan says:

    The second paragraph offers some perspective too: “Il faut toutefois souligner que les applaudissements et les « bravos » pour Mme Williams se sont, aussi, largement fait entendre au cours de la soirée, signe d’une performance très appréciée par le plus grand nombre.”

  • Ian says:

    “It should be noted, however, that the applause and ‘bravos’ for Ms. Williams were also widely heard during the evening, a sign of a performance much appreciated by the greatest number.”

  • La speranza says:

    I predicted that this would happen after listening to three different performances of William’s Isolde in Seattle. I am shocked, that people who never listened to her in this role play the white/or black Isolde ugly card; which has zero to do with her vocal performance in this role. Her Seattle cover with Heidi Melton (with a single scheduled performance) was ten times better and stylistically correct for the role. No idea why Christina Scheppelman did not reverse them. Williams is an 20 plus years pro, with many roles under her belt including Aida, Tosca, Norma, Abigaille, Bess etc., but never having a major international career of any sorts, just simply accepting almost any offer comming her way and this Isolde is a major flop one. But the liability is on the Artistic Director’s, Casting Director’s and conductor’s hands allowing it to progress from a rehearsal period onto a real stage. Not trying to shame Williams, that she is a bad singer or artist, bit she is recently married to a very smart Italian tenor and maybe should declined this offer in the first place…..

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Peter Sellars. Yikes!!

  • Knowing Clam says:

    Also what happened to Gwyn Hughes Jones–who was supposed to sing Tristan?

    • Sanity says:

      He withdrew in December. I don’t know who advised him to sing the role, but her really shouldn’t have been anywhere near it.

      • ALfredosuace says:

        He is close friends with their poor casting director who lazily calls on her ex rolodex of UK singers after running the youth program at the Met. Children, indeed.

  • Louise says:

    Isn’t this due to their very inexperienced casting director – over promoted beyond comprehension – and their equally overly ambitious new Artistic Director – Sophie Joyce and Alexander Neef? Both of them politically savvy but both lacking any taste or depth. Sad to see Paris Opera thrown away in their weak hands.