'Tristan und Isolde' to star soprano Tamara Wilson in her SFO debut

Soprano makes her SFO debut with ‘Tristan und Isolde’

Tamara Wilson will sing the title role of Isolde in “Tristan und Isolde.” (Courtesy of the Santa Fe Opera)

Slated to sing the title role of Isolde in Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” Tamara Wilson knows her Verdi.

When she first sang in Verdi’s “Un Ballo in maschera” (“A Masked Ball”) at the Houston Grand Opera in 2007, the critics both praised and pigeonholed her.

“Finally, there’s a beautiful Verdi soprano,” one wrote.

Beginning on Saturday, July 23, Wilson will turn her voice to Wagner at the Santa Fe Opera.

Born in Arizona, Wilson grew up in the Chicago area. Her mother is a retired choir director and accompanist, and her father worked in the railroad industry.

Music swelled throughout their home, especially musical theater. Wilson had never listened to opera until she entered college at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, planning to become a voice professor.

All along, her teachers were steering her toward opera.

“I kind of grew up on movie musicals – Judy Garland and Cyd Charisse,” she said.

“Opera kind of chose me.”

During her first year at the conservatory, Wilson decided to audition for the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council on a lark, never thinking she would get anywhere.

She made it to the finals.

The Houston Grand Opera recruited her for their young artist program and a star was born.

“I was like, ‘Why am I here?’ ” she said with a laugh.

That career has led her to roles at the Canadian National Opera, the English National Opera, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Metropolitan Opera and the Sydney Opera House. In 2009, she sang the title role in Verdi’s “Aida” at the Sydney Opera House. In 2009-2010 she sang the role of Amelia Grimaldi in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” in Canada. In 2014, she made her Met debut in “Aida.”

Considered by some music critics the most revolutionary opera in the 19th century, “Tristan und Isolde” emerged when Wagner fell in love with the work of the gloomy philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. He was also involved in an extramarital affair with the wife of a patron, making the work his most autobiographical. The production marks Santa Fe’s first Wagner since 1988’s “The Flying Dutchman,” which will reappear next season.

Tristan is taking Isolde to his uncle, King Marke in Cornwall, to be his wife. He is in love with Isolde and she knows this. She also loves Tristan, although all she wants to do is hate him for invading her homeland of Ireland, murdering the man she was supposed to marry and then dragging her onto a ship to be married off to someone else.

“I don’t classify myself as a Wagner singer,” Wilson said. “I’ve done about 14 Verdi roles. This will be my first stage Wagner. Go big or go home, right?

“It’s a little more philosophical” than Verdi’s work, she continued. “There’s talk of philosophy of life and death. The first time I saw it, I took a nap,” she added with peals of laughter.

“I love the music,” she continued. “I feel it’s very drawn out. It’s very much these slow burns. You’re with an orchestra that is more heavily orchestrated than others. It’s so dense. It sounds more like a soundtrack to our modern ears.”

Wilson’s next date will be in Verdi’s “Ernani” at the Chicago Lyric Opera in September-October.

This is her first role at Santa Fe.

“I think it’s gorgeous here,” she said. “It’s so peaceful. I hear the birds every morning.”

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