15 April 2016 at 11.40am | 8 Comments
The story begins…
The musician Heinrich Tannhäuser leaves his home in the Wartburg to become the consort of the goddess Venus. Growing tired of her hedonistic realm, he decides to return to his old life and his former beloved, Elisabeth. But if Elisabeth and his comrades learn where he has been, will they ever forgive him?
From cautionary tale to drama of redemption
Wagner based the story of Tannhäuser on the 16th-century poem Das Lied von dem Danheüser, and its satirical adaptation by Heinrich Heine. As so often, Wagner substantially altered the story for his operatic adaptation, in this case by adding the characters of the loyal and long-suffering Wolfram (based on a real German poet), and Elisabeth, who saves Tannhäuser through her unselfish love.
Introspective arias and grand choruses
Tannhäuser contains some of Wagner’s greatest and most emotionally powerful arias, including Elisabeth’s radiant ‘Dich, teure Halle’ and her heartbroken prayer ‘Allmächt’ge Jungfrau’, Tannhäuser’s plea for release from Venus ‘Dir töne Lob!’ and Wolfram’s ardent ‘O du, mein holder Abendstern’. The opera also contains some of Wagner’s most brilliant writing for chorus, such as the regal ‘Freudig begrüssen wir die edle Halle’ that opens the Act II singing contest, and Act III’s radiant finale.
Hedonism or austerity?
Tim Albery’s production highlights the dilemma of Tannhäuser, caught between two contrasting worlds, both of which have their delights and their dangers. The hedonistic, sensual atmosphere of the Venusberg has its sinister side (shown in the Act I ballet), while the Wartburg is austere and war-torn, the Hall of Song a ruin of a once-splendid building, where the Landgraf's men patrol with guns. Tannhäuser struggles to belong in either society.
From Dresden to Paris – and on
The premiere of Tannhäuser took place at the Dresden Court Opera on 19 October 1845. Further performances followed throughout Germany in the 1850s. Wagner rewrote the opera for Paris in 1861, adding a ballet (and breaking Parisian tradition by having it in Act I), enlarging the Venusberg scene and cutting Walther’s Act II aria. A third version, for Vienna (the version performed by The Royal Opera) had its first performance in 1875. Wagner was planning further revisions at the time of his death in 1883.
Tannhäuser runs 26 April–15 May 2016. Tickets are still available.
The production is staged with generous philanthropic support from Dr and Mrs Michael West, Simon and Virginia Robertson, Maggie Copus, Peter and Fiona Espenhahn, Malcolm Herring, The Metherell family, the Tannhäuser Production Syndicate and the Wagner Circle.