Wagner - Tannhauser / Mehta, Kollo, National Theatre of Munich
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David Alden's production of Wagner's grand romantic opera was recorded at the National Theatre in Munich, with Bayerische Staatsoper, in September 1994. Shot over three days by leading opera director Brian Large, this recording benefits from the ideal technical conditions made possible by a closed session. Alden, one of the most iconoclastic interpreters of classicalopera, stirs up the visionary, erotic, and archetypal elements in Wagner's work. The cold, forbidding aspect of the stylized and predominantly monochrome sets and costumes by Roni Toren and Buki Shiff manifests the strait-jacket of tradition from which Tannhauser seeks to free himself in this powerful opera. 186 minutes.
Hermann Landgrave of Thuringia: Jan Hendrik Rootering
Tannhauser: Rene Kollo
Wolfram von Eschenbach: Bernd Weikl
Walther von der Vogelweide: Claes H. Ahnsio
Biterolf: Hans Gunter Nocker
Heinrich der Schreiber: James Anderson
Reinmar von Zweter: Gerhard Auer
Elisabeth Niece of the Landgrave: Nadine Secunde
Venus: Waltraud Meier
Conductor: Zubin Mehta
In Richard Wagner's obsessive drama, with its themes of sin and repentance, cultural inhibition and artistic spontaneity, sexual excess and lost innocence, symbols sprout as profusely as dandelions on summer lawns. A lot of the symbols were put there by the composer (who also wrote the libretto), but for this production director David Alden has decided to add many more--notably in the first scene: an orgy in the love nest of the goddess Venus. The sadomasochistic visuals, reminiscent of the feverish inventions of Hieronymus Bosch, may help to explain Tannhäuser's decision that he wants to go home. Like the scenery, the costumes are eclectic, ranging from modern, formal evening gowns to medieval suits of armor and even, in a few choice instances, nothing at all.
The director may be trying to say too many things at once. The profusion of visual symbols shows a rich imagination, but a more clearly defined focus would have been helpful. That kind of focus is found in the acting, partly because Alden is a good director but also because he is working with seasoned performers. René Kollo as Tannhäuser and Bernd Weikl as Wolfram von Eschenbach have made specialties of these roles, and even when the story strains credibility or when the music strains their voices, they give convincing portrayals, as do Waltraud Meier and Nadine Secunde and the supporting cast. Zubin Mehta's conducting is opulent if not subtle. This is an intriguing though sometimes disturbing production. But on the whole, those who want a straightforward, well-sung, visually superb, and problem-free Tannhäuser would prefer the DVD edition of the superb Metropolitan Opera production. --Joe McLellan
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Top customer reviews
A major key in the success of a visual production of Tannahauser is an attractive Venus. That's not something most of us, surrounded by political correctness, like to hear, but the essential tension in the story is set up by Heinrich's attraction to the sensual aspects of life (Venus) as opposed to "ideal" or more platonic or altruistic love (Elisabeth). You only have to hear Waltraud Meier's passionate pleading with Heinrich (Rene Kollo), and see her writhing on the long dining table to feel Heinrich's attraction to the sensual side of life.
I don't agree with the reviewers who have said that Kollo's or Weikl's voices were "past it." A few times, there may be a hint of straining, but generally they are excellent.
Kollo makes up for any hint of weakness through great acting which he brings to the role of Tannhauser, especially as he taunts the other knights during the singing contest.
I was not blown away as others were by Nadine Secunde (Elisabeth). Her singing is quite good, but certainly it did not steal the show.
When it comes to stealing the show, I'm not sure whether it was Wagner's "Evening Star" song, or Bernd Weikl's performance of it. If you can watch and listen to that song, without tears welling up in your eyes, you must be made of stone.
The Wagner estate should be thankful for this controversial production of the Master's works - it provides just the correct amount of "vervremdung".
There are currently three versions of Tannhauser available on DVD - THIS VERSION Is the most successful. I had to watch it twice at full blast on a big screen. It's visually reminiscent of Jean Cocteau's ORPHEUS, and isn't this the entire purpose of Opera on DVD [curently the most technically acceptable format] - for a music lover to access a work VISUALLY [and vocally] when the "live" product is unavailable? This version is a sublime marriage of Visual with Vocal.
Kollo as Wagner/Tannhauser is trapped in limbo somewhere between Cosima Wagner/Venus [electrifying Waltraude Meier] and Elizabeth/sweet, forgotten, innocent love [virginal Nadine Secunde "aardtmaagt"]. It holds throughout - from the raw,... opening tableau [the ballet - perhaps only rivalled by the version seen in "Venus Rising"], through the chilly-lush Great Hall sequence, to the conservative conclusion.
Leave the "Museum Piece" productions on the shelf - great for research, historic detail, etc. but not really for Wagner lovers in need of katharsis.
I can't wait for Brian Large to "do" the Ring cycle.
Wouldn't it be interesting to see Kolo, Meier, Secunde and Paul Groves in a version of "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" [would sound spectacular in German!]
Previn did it with "Streetcar".
The best thing in this production is obviously Waltraud Meier's Venus.
She is beautiful and so convincing as a goddess of carnal pleasure.
Most recent customer reviews
Live 2003 performance by Oper Zurich, presumably from the Zurich Opera House. There is no evidence in the accompanying package or on the disks themselves to indicate...Read more
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