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2006, Munich, Tannhäuser, review by Petra

Tannhäuser

Munich, 27.7.2006

A personal review and notes on the production, by Petra Habeth

This Tannhäuser-performance was probably the best performances of the whole festival – a guy standing next to me in the third tier said that afterwards to his companion – I have not seen many performances this year but heard a lot from other visitors and would totally agree.

But that does not mean that everything was just great: Robert Gambill “fought” more than usual with his part – maybe because of the nearly unbearable heat during these days? He has never sung it with ease but this evening I was already worried during the first act how he would be able to sing the “Romerzählung” in act 3.Well he was able, but just because beforehand he took refuge into “Sprechgesang” (more speaking than singing) …  and he had a lot to sing already in the first act since in Munich the “Paris-version” is played, the one with the longer Venus-scene.

The longer Venus-scene is wonderful if you have a good Venus BUT even a stunning Venus as Waltraud Meier is was not able to win against the nearly drowsy conducting of Zubin Mehta. The first scene was boring! But from the second act on I had the feeling that even Metha was awake – maybe it was the new baton he had to use because the “old“ one was auctioned off in the first intermission as a support for the opera-kindergarten?
Anja Harteros gave her role-debut (at least in Munich) that night and she was breath-taking – in singing AND acting – she was the first Elizabeth for whom I believed the total breakdown at the end of the second act. She sang the part without any debut-problems or insecurities. And her being a good looking woman too made the men in the audience understand Tannhäuser’s problems about having to decide between the two … I guess.
Jan-Hendrik Rootering was an acceptable Landgraf Hermann (Kurt Moll should have sung but had declared his stage-farewell shortly before – understandable but VERY regrettable) and the other „Minnesänger“ Ulrich Reß, Gerhard Auer, Kenneth Robertson and Tom Fox are approved and reliable.

I deliberately left the best till the end: SK’s Wolfram has developed a lot as a stage-character. Some years ago he was doing everything the director told him, as good as possible of course but without reflecting. Now I had the feeling that he has his own thoughts about Wolfram: I have never before seen him that concerned about Elisabeth in the second act, with a look like “again you have a lot of trouble with that man. Why him? With me you would not have such problems” always looking if he could help her, support her somehow. His “Lied an den Abendstern” in the third act made me, as always, cry.

Huge applause at the end for all of the protagonists and for the conductor.
Just one word more: They ALL sang with a brilliant German articulation – EVERY WORD WAS TO UNDERSTAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Great!

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Notes on the production

What should I write about that (for me) just silly direction of David Alden? I have seen it now about 10 times since 1995 and the more often I see it the more boring it gets. Already during the prelude the stage is open and a lot of more or less unreal looking persons are walking over the stage including a crocodile (don’t ask me about it!), Tannhäuser is wearing a kind of trench coat and is carrying a suitcase in which he keeps his songs-sheets. Venus is dressed in a long red dress with golden top and red long gloves – very attractive. The first scene is at the long table in Venus’ dining room, that’s what it looks like – with dish and glasses on the table but just an electric bulb instead of a candelabrum, which would suit here. The scene is closed with a wall with three doors (no we are not changing to Magic flute!), The left-most one is opened by Venus trying a last time to convince Tannhäuser to stay. After her disappearance the wall goes up again to reveal the “wood” with the shepherd, the pilgrims and later the Hunt. But you see only an open stage with a shepherd boy who looks like he is in the middle of chemotherapy; the pilgrims come dragging stones (showing the heavy weight of their sins. No further comment) and the Landgraf has – in the middle of the wood (!!) – a chair to sit on and a visionary crystal-ball in his hands. Walter von der Vogelweide wears a white suit with lion’s fur over the shoulder, Reinmar von Zweter looks like an aviator out of biplane times, Wolfram wears also a long trench-coat and glasses (to support his intellect?). The only thing which reminds you – maybe – of the time specified by Wagner are the long hair all of the men wear – more or less attractive. Elisabeth wears a long black dress with a long white veil; she wears it around the shoulders, and the ladies who dress her up for the singing match (and Tannhäuser later too) put it over her head. She is then sat on a chair on top of a table with flowers around her draped like an altar of a saint – this is something I understand and accept: Elisabeth is already seen as the “Holy Elisabeth” as Tannhäuser addresses her in his final moment, but she wants to be seen as a woman. She hopes that Tannhäuser is the one not to see a saint in her and becomes very stiff when at the end of the “love-duet” he covers her with that veil. Sitting elevated on that table, Wolfram’s words “Da blick’ ich auf zu einem nur der Sterne (“… as I look up to only one of the stars”) become literal  as he looked UP at her … but she was hidden behind the veil showing her reactions to the singing of the different men in hiding or uncovering her head with the veil , hiding at Wolfram’s, Walter’s and Reinmar’s words, uncovering as if being better able to hear and visibly agreeing with Tannhäuser’s words. So when at the final of the second act, having revealed so much of her feelings for Tannhäuser,  he with the words “nach Rom” (to Rome) covers her again with that veil, she is totally shattered. Wolfram is kneeling beside her but is not allowed to help her.

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In the third act there are ruins that look like rails – showing the way to Rome? At first you could think so as the pilgrims come that way, and Tannhäuser. But Venus also comes from that direction, so I WOULD NOT assume Rome! And Elisabeth leaves in that direction. I can see no “sense” in these rails other than them being a needless balance-bar for the singers to walk along or to sit on. I mentioned in the first act the doors. Well Wolfram has to carry one of them in the third act. On that door some papers are pinned, and he pulls them down (as SK explained to us at the stage entrance some years ago, these are Tannhäusers songs! I can’t remember him giving an explanation why).

Later he has to hold his hands over his ears not wanting to hear what’s going on. During the singing of Venus I can understand it, but he also does it when the chorus announces the miracle (“Heil, Heil, der Gnade Wunder Heil) which he has foreseen some bars before. Why? His last action is to keep the crowd away from the dead Tannhäuser, this is again something I can understand, trying to protect the redeemed corpse, from being revered as some sort of holy relic.

If you still want to see some of it, there exists a DVD of this production with the singers of the first series in 1995 (Kollo, Meier, Secunde, Weikl, Rootering conducted by Mehta). Click below for details.

PH, August 2007

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