On Sunday 16th at 3.30pm we have Wagner’s opera TANNHAUSER (3h + intervals with wine).
‘’ Always controversial in their revisionist approach to Wagner's legacy, the 2014 Tannhäuser is fairly typical of recent Bayreuth productions. Director Sebastian Baumgarten's idea is to bring together several art installation pieces by the artist and sculptor Joep van Lieshout. These pieces, with names like Alcoholator, Disciplinator and Technocrat, are processes that produce a 'biogas', the whole system forming a kind of working model for the cyclical human and bodily processes that generate life and, by extension, art. Which, even though they weren't created with Wagner in mind, is more or less what Tannhäuser is about.
It's a little more complicated than that. There's the co-dependency of physical and the spiritual, but also an outlook on society as a whole, on the role of the artist, and of course it's all tied up in Wagner's own complex and contradictory impulses, political vision and developing philosophical outlook. Baumgarten's Tannhäuser follows a similar path to Hans Neuenfels' laboratory experiment 'rat' Lohengrin for Bayreuth, viewing the work as a model of society, taking in Wagner's perspective and extending it to a more modern outlook. It's not so much trying to update it or make it fit as use it as a means to revisit the work and explore whether it really has something new to inform our view of the world we live in today.
I'm not sure that the director really manages to draw anything new out of Tannhäuser, but it does encourage anyone who thinks they are familiar with the work to reconsider more deeply what it is about, and question whether those contradictions and inconsistencies within it aren't actually essential to its purpose. It does at least, I find, explore the characters in greater detail, and not just Tannhäuser, but also Venus and Elisabeth and the relationships between them. Wolfram von Eschenbach also comes out of this production with a role that suddenly seems more significant, but it seems to me that as much of the strength of the characterisation here is also down to how it is performed.
Whatever you make of the Bayreuth stage production, musically it's a glorious affair that does open up the work and reveal new qualities. It's not a forceful, driving Wagnerian interpretation, but one that finds the true delicacy and poignancy within what is surely the most Romantic of Wagner's works on the misunderstood, suffering artist as national or social hero. Alex Kober's conducting of the orchestra is outstanding and the chorus are superb, as they really have to be in this particular work. There's not a trace of heavy-handedness, yet all the force and dynamic of the work is there, measured and applied in such a way that it works hand-in-hand with the production.
The singing likewise is never forced. I thought at first that Camilla Nylund was underpowered here as Elisabeth. Knowing what she is capable of, it sounded like she was conserving her voice, but the more gentle delivery and the colour that Nylund is able to apply actually pays dividends with Elisabeth and her nature here. This is also borne out in the performances of Michelle Breedt's Venus, but particularly in Markus Eiche's excellent and impressive Wolfram. The complex character of Tannhäuser is another matter however, and requires a different approach. Torsten Kerl achieves a good balance between the more lyrical side of his character and the Romantic heldentenor, his performance also covering all the playfulness, bawdiness, irreverence and the more serious, spiritual as well as the vainglorious sides of the character.
The Opus Arte Blu-ray release presents all the colour and brightness of the busy Bayreuth stage very well.’’ Amazon.co.uk reviwer
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