Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Heinz Feldhoff, Gwyneth Jones, Franz Mazura, John Pickering, Robert Schunk
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
"Conducted by Sir Colin Davis, the score is interpreted splendidly." (The New York Times) Gwyneth Jones bravely tackles the roles of both Elisabeth and Venus with glorious tone and splendid stage presence. This 1978 produc... more »
Captures the spirit of Bayreuth
Doug Urquhart | Southport, CT USA | 08/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There are many videos of Bayreuth performances, but this was the first. For that reason alone, it's worth watching; fortunately it isn't the only reason.
Unlike later recordings, this one includes curtain calls. I think this was an excellent decision, since it evokes the thrill of being part of a Bayreuth audience. Only in Bayreuth will an audience remain absolutely silent until the last note has faded, and then erupt in a paroxism of emotion - good or bad. Listen carefully, and you'll hear the point where the audience begin to stamp their feet, causing the wooden structure of the Festspielhaus to resonate with a sound like thunder. They obviously liked this performance.
And why not, indeed; it's excellent.
Gwyneth Jones performs both Venus and Elizabeth, as Birgit Nilsson did, back in the sixties. There were some difficulties - her lower register wasn't quite up to the essentially mezzo part of Venus, and her diminutive stature meant that she had to stand on a box throughout act I (somewhat limiting her range of movement). That's her on the cover of the DVD - you can see the corner of the box if you look closely. However, her acting ability, stage presence and total commitment to her roles more than compensated for these minor, er, shortcomings.
Spas Wenkoff's Tannhauser was full of manic glee (although this might have been a combination of close-ups and operatic acting). Wonderful strong voice, with none of the whiny edge that I've heard in other Tannhausers.
The unbelievably young Bernd Weikl was a splendid Wolfram - a role which he was to play many times. You might like to contrast his performance here with the one in the 1994 Munich performance, with Waltraud Myer as Venus.
The orchestra, chorus and other performers all lived up the normal Bayreuth standards of perfection. Colin Davis maintained a lively and expressive tempo.
This is the full Paris version, complete with a somewhat prim Bacchanale, filmed in 1978, when this originally controversial production had been accepted by the Bayreuth audience.
Technical issues? A few. After all, the film was made thirty years ago. The sound is almost perfect, but there are a couple of occasions where background noise intrudes. Thankfully they're brief. The image quality is somewhat variable, particularly in the darker passages. Again, this isn't obtrusive - I'm just being picky.
Most solid Tannhauser on DVD
C. Lunde | 08/15/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a recording of a live performance out of Bayreuth in 1978. Like most (though by no means all) Bayreuth audiences, this one is extraordinarily well-behaved, so coughs at inappropriate times aren't an issue and one gets all the benefits of a live performance without any of the drawbacks. There are curtain calls at the end of every act, but with the advent of the fast-forward button, these are not annoying.
As a warning, the production isn't strictly "traditional": Landgraf and the minnesingers are dressed in Faschist/Nazi style and the Venusberg is reimagined as a sort of opulent prison (Tannhauser looks through the strings of his harp during the overture as if they are prison bars.) Most of the time, though, the production makes sense: the minnesingers carry harps, the singing contest is in the grand hall of Wartburg, the Venusberg is underground and has its scantily clad nymphs, etc. Given what Wagner operas are turned into these days, this is as traditional a production as one is likely to get, unless one opts for the boring and generally poorly sung/acted Met version.
Now, to get to the *real* reason for buying this version: the cast. It's far superior to the Met's version and the other Bayreuth version in terms of both acting and singing. Bernd Weikl sounds and looks much fresher here (being 4 years younger than in the Met version) as Wolfram. If you don't like Gwyneth Jones, stay away: she plays both Venus and Elisabeth. I like her fine (though I don't love her), and though she tends to be a bit wild vocally her acting ability more than makes up for it. In the third act, she literally crawls across the stage and cries real tears during her prayer to the Virgin. When she goes offstage to die, you believe it. That said, I prefer the Met's Troyanos for Venus, because Jones' fach is not quite right for the part (I like my Venus a bit more mezzo-ish), and the Venus (can't remember her name) from the other Bayreuth Tannhauser was just plain bad. However, Jones stands head and shoulders above the Met's Eva Marton as Elisabeth (even if she can't match Cheryl Studer), and as Venus she doesn't give much to complain about, either.
And Tannhauser himself? Spas Wenkoff (who?) does a fantastic job. The role of Tannhauser is one well known for being a voice-killer, but Wenkoff manages not only to sing the notes but to inflect them properly for the drama. That his voice and appearance are more attractive than the Met's Richard Cassilly's are also major pluses. He's not a wonderful actor (too much weird, creepy smiling) but he's good enough to start out with and only gets better from Act One on. His Rome Narrative is Wagner candy, and his voice never shows any signs of tiring.
This a a very well-balanced production, which is why I think it works so well: the performers interact convincingly (unlike in the Met's), conducting by Colin Davis is sensitive (unlike Sinopoli's, whose major cut in Act 1 confuses me), and the singing standard is generally high--for the '70s, which were dark days for Wagner singing, the standard is very high indeed.
The technical details are as follows: There are subtitles in German, English, French, Spanish and Chinese, along with two options for audio: PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1 Surround sound, all of which can be accessed by the DVD menu. There is also a little booklet detailing the production's origins/interpretations."
Bob Epstein | Minneapolis | 08/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There is usually something special about a first recording, and this Tannhauser was the first complete opera video from Bayreuth, in 1978. It indeed is most compelling, graced by the elucidating and dramatic staging and direction of the highly acclaimed Gotz Friedrich. Ironically, for a first recording, Friedrich's original 1972 production raised holy hell in Bayreuth, booed in the house, criticized by politicians (!) and raising only medium levels of praise from the critics.
Today, it seems positively conservative. Banners than hang in the Act 2 song contest were criticized as too militaristic. Today they look positively traditional and inviting. When Tannhauser is about to sing his radical song, knights with swords lunge to attack him; hardly a stretch of imagination. The final chorus, on a darkened stage, was thought, incorrectly according to the set's notes, to be clad in a pedestrian outfit of red, apparently indicative of the East German Friedrich's Communist tendencies. Puhlease!
The Tannhauser is the unknown Spas Wenkel, a Bulgarian who was 50 when this was recorded. Apparently, from a Google search, he had a quick rise to acclaim and disappeared soon after. Here he joins the original cast from 1972 and they are a seasoned group. Wenkoff, besides possessing a very expressive stage presence, is a splendid singer, full of ardor with a ringing tone. His short career is our loss.
Gwyneth Jones tackles the roles of both Venus and Elisabeth, and portrays both superbly, in fine voice. Her Venus is not only vocally outstanding but a sight to behold, clad in a see-through outfit that does her and the audience, ahem, great justice. Yet, her dedicated Elisabeth, the flip side of Venus, is also spot on, full of reverence. Bernd Weikl, who made Wolfram a specialty, does the part superbly, bringing his refulgent baritone to excellent use. Venusburg is suitably (by today's standards) erotic. Maybe the Bayreuth regulars weren't used to this.
Colin Davis's conducting is outstanding. He has passion, drive, detail. A terrific achievement. It's as great a reading of this opera as I've heard.
Friedrich was renowned for his being an actor's director and getting the most out of his actor-singers, and Tannhauser is a terrific example, as are his live videos of Lohengrin (Peter Hofmann, Bayreuth, 1982), Meistersinger (Wolfgang Brendel, Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 1995), Manon Lescaut (Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, Covent Garden, 1983) and films of Elektra (Leonie Rysanek, Karl Bohm, 1982) and Salome (Teresa Stratas, Karl Bohm, 1974).
I have see most of the Bayreuth productions on DVD and this is the only one I've seen that includes applause and curtain calls, a welcome addition. I've always felt less connected to an opera performance that lacks them, even though I realize that Bayreuth productions seem never to have been filmed live. Still, I like the illusion of an audience clapping and singers taking their bows. Sadly, it is done poorly here, with an obvious lack of coordination between the level of applause and the appearance of the singers, especially after Acts 2 and 3. Still, a nice touch.
The DG production is sharp, especially for its age, but too often plagued by bits of snow or white spots. DG could have done better. Overall, a magnificent performance.
P. Ho | Washington DC | 09/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Time to celebrate! Finally this memorable production comes on DVD! What made the folks at DG wait such a long time? There were so many other sub-par DVD performances of this opera available out there long before this version was available. This is perhaps the only version of the opera that I have seen where I have not been bored or just turned off by some director's "vision". And boy does this opera need all the help it can get-which is exactly what happens here! First is the production itself which successfully combines (mostly) the traditional directions of the composer with a good jolt of the modern perspective. Of course nowadays this production would probably be seen as tame compared the the Munich production (w/ Rene Kollo and Waltraud Meier), although nowhere near as traditional as the Met's. Second, this production would only succeed with strong, visually believable singers in the principal roles. In Gwyneth Jones and Spas Wenkoff we have two such singers. Yes, they are not exactly in the first flush of youth, but good grief, has any Wagnerian soprano displayed such physique as Dame Gwyneth (Venus) in her prime? Waltraud Meier (Venus) certainly matches her in Munich, but Dame Gwyneth goes one step further and performs the role of Elisabeth with even more distinction since it is vocally better suited to her. Spas Wenkoff of course has to be mentioned since Tannhauser is such a murderous role. He more than holds his own, and while his acting is respectable, the overall combination of vocal stamina and dramatic concentration makes him an interesting Tannhauser (how often can you say that about a Wagnerian tenor?). Bernd Weikl and Hans Sotin lead the distinguished supporting cast while Colin Davis leads a reading of lyricism devoid of sentimentality and cheesiness. The chorus is of course superb, and the videography is good for its age (1978). Don't expect any HD-like visual quality. Highly recommended."