Most recent performance
There are currently no scheduled performances of Tannhäuser. It was last on stage 26 April—15 May 2016 as part of the Spring 2015/16 season.
In Venus’s domain of the Venusberg, the great singer Tannhäuser tires of Venus’s love and escapes. In a song contest at home on the subject of love, Tannhäuser argues for the importance of physical desire – revealing his sin with Venus, to the people’s horror. Elisabeth, whose heart he won long ago, intercedes on his behalf. Tannhäuser is ordered to make a pilgrimage to the Pope to seek redemption.
Read more… (Contains spoilers)
Wagner’s early masterpiece Tannhäuser had controversial beginnings. Its premiere in Dresden on 19 October 1845 was met with incomprehension, as none of the cast, particularly the title character, were up to the score’s singular demands – quite a change from today, where Tannhäuser is seen as one of the most challenging and rewarding roles for Heldentenor. In 1861 the Paris premiere of a significantly revised version was wildly disrupted by members of the Jockey Club, political opponents of Wagner’s Parisian patrons. Despite its eventual success, Wagner remained dissatisfied with the work for the rest of his life; his wife Cosima’s diaries record Wagner saying just weeks before his death that he ‘still owes the world a Tannhäuser’. The Royal Opera performs the last version known to be approved by Wagner, from 1875 in Vienna.
In his critically acclaimed 2010 production for The Royal Opera, director Tim Albery focusses on the conflict at the heart of Tannhäuser (and of so many Wagner works) – the opposing pulls of the sensual and the spiritual. The opening Venusberg bacchanal, vividly choreographed by Jasmin Vardimon, is set beneath a towering replica of the Royal Opera House’s gleaming proscenium arch, designed by Michael Levin. The great song-hall of the Wartburg becomes the ruined palace of a war-torn land, the chorus of pilgrims refugees desperately seeking peace. Against this backdrop, the beauty of the score’s most acclaimed moments – including Wolfram’s ‘O du, mein holder Abendstern’, Elisabeth’s ‘Allmächt’ge Jungfrau’ and Tannhäuser’s glorious ‘Dir töne Lob’ – shine forth.
News and features
29 April 2016
Emma Bell, Christian Gerhaher and Hartmut Haenchen speak about Wagner’s early masterpiece.
27 April 2016
What did you think of Tim Albery’s production of Wagner's potent early opera?
18 April 2016
Wagner and Verdi were rivals in many ways, but the Italianate flourishes of Wolfram’s Hymn to the Evening Star reveals a begrudging mutual influence.
15 April 2016
5 things you need to know about Wagner’s potent early opera.
14 December 2015
Opera is one of many art forms that loves to dwell on what might have been.
19 November 2015
Composers have long experimented with different ways of giving a sense of community, often using the chorus to highly dramatic effect.