Wagner: Tannhäuser [Gran Teatre del Liceu/Weigle] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Chinese
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: C Major
- Blu-ray Release Date: March 27, 2012
- List Price: $39.99
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Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser reflects the ultimate conflict between spirit and flesh, pure love and worldly lust. The composer himself, no stranger to temptation, weaves the story of a hero who has fallen in love with the goddess Venus (Beatrice Uria-Monzon) and is held in thrall until her spell is broken. Tannhauser (Peter Seiffert) returns to the city of Wartburg where he had previously lost the local version of American Idol. He discovers from his friend Wolfram (Markus Eiche) that he still has the heart of Elizabeth (Petra Maria Schnitzer) the daughter of Landgraf Hermann (Gunther Groissbock). Another song contest ensues during which Tannhäuser sings a hymn to Venus. This shocks those gathered and the Landgraf exiles Tannhäuser who must then make a pilgrimage to Rome to seek redemption from the Pope. In the interim, Elizabeth has gone into seclusion and even Wolfram cannot bring her spirits back. Tannhäuser returns without the Pope’s blessing, but it is too late as Elizabeth has died. In his despair, Tannhäuser’s pilgrim’s staff has sprouted leaves, a miracle that signals his ultimate forgiveness from God.
Director Robert Carsen updates time and place, opening with Tannhäuser as a painter and Venus, his nude subject. The costumes are modern dress. As is often the case with updates, the stage is sparsely decorated. This is a rich work with page after page of glorious music as only Wagner could write. Fortunately, the musical values are reasonably well upheld by the principals under the baton of Sebastian Weigle who gets the details, pace, and dynamics of this massive score completely right. Tenor Seiffert was 57 at the time of this performance, and, all things considered, renders a big and stentorian sing, handling this part as well as most of his younger contemporaries. Mezzo-soprano Uria-Monzon makes for a convincing Venus and yields little in appearance to her body-double who posed for the nude scene. Young German baritone Markus Eiche is one of the pleasant finds in this production turning in an excellent Wolfram. Gunther Groissbock, a bit youthful for the Landgraf (he was 35 at production’s recording) delivers a sonorous and deeply felt performance. The major cast disappointment is Petra Schnitzer’s Elisabeth whose voice becomes shrill at higher volumes.
Given the rather dark character of this opera, the minimalist staging supports rather detracts much from its spirit. The drab nature of most of the costumes does not evoke the spirit of knights or Minnesingers. Camera work is excellent and keeps this rather static work from coming to a halt. Detail is very good and although the color range is limited, it is accurately captured. Carsen’s concepts are often controversial and turning this opera into a statement about visual art and its inspiration will work better for some viewers than for others. Having the cast make some of its stage entries from the audience allows us to see the gorgeous surroundings of the Liceu opera house as well.
The Gran Teatre del Liceu is an acoustically wonderful hall and the sound engineers take advantage of its sonorities, quite an important issue with most Wagnerian works. As mentioned earlier, the standard of singing is generally quite good and the voices well captured. The part of Tannhäuser is a vocal killer for many tenors and I was continually impressed by Seiffert’s ability to get its essence without sacrificing musicality. Another highlight is Eiche’s portrayal of the famous “Evening Star” aria (track 36), bringing out the lieder or song-like quality of this piece. The chorus is terrific and lends an important element to the proceedings.
In the C Major tradition, the only extras here are trailers for other videos in their catalog.
The Definitive Word
There are numerous Tannhäusers in the current catalog, including a Blu-ray of the Nicholas Lehnhoff Baden-Baden Festspielehaus production. With few exceptions, the level of singing is not as consistently good as it is in this current production. I realize that the bare staging and unspectacular costumes does take some getting used to, but if you can put these issues aside then you are in for an enthralling three and a half of hours of glorious music. I actually thought that director Carsens got the duality of love and desire concept quite right, even though you never actually get to see Tannhäuser’s painting of Venus. If you must have a traditional version, you might want to get the old Met DVD with wonderful singing by Eva Marton and Tatiana Troyanos although Richard Cassily’s Tannhäuser is a bit underwhelming.
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