Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Wagner Tannhauser - Bayreuther Festspiele/Giuseppe Sinopoli|
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
Great, but with one indefensible cut
C. Boerger | Columbus, OH USA | 11/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Apparently, Wagner considered Tannhauser to be his worst opera. Well, the great composer, who was notoriously wrong in several of his viewpoints, was certainly wrong about that, at least in my humble opinion. Tannhauser is a wonderful opera, filled to the brim with glorious, breathtaking music. If the composer's results don't always match his ambition, which was apparently to be the last word on the conflict between spirituality and sensuality, that is a matter of personal opinion. Granted, the libretto is a little creaky, with its austere lack of levity it is frequently unintentionally comic. Overall though, mostly because of Wagner's incomparable music, the opera scales the heights of both erotica and redemption, and achieves a solemn profundity rare in any music drama. Viva Tannhauser!
This is a late '80's Bayreuth production, staged and directed by Wolfgang Wagner, conducted by Guiseppe Sinopoli, and featuring a host of fine Wagnerian singers. Sinopoli's conducting is a little slow at times, but never at the expense of the drama, and the big, sweeping moments, particularly the ensembles, are delivered with overwhelming gusto. The entrance of guests to the music contest has never sounded better, or more alive. The Bayreuth orchestra sounds great, crystal clear, note perfect in every aspect, and the audio quality is ideal.
Richard Versalle, in the title role(the first official rock star, the Mick Jagger of minstrels), has the right timbre for the heroic tenor roles, especially of the Wagnerian variety, his only weakness is an occasional lack of volume, allowing himself to be overpowered by his female partners. Physically, he is very convincing, going from nobility to deshevelment to ultimate deliverance. A young Wolfgang Brendel, looking like Omar Sharif in Doctor Zhivago, is a heart-wrenching Wolfram, his O du mein holder Abendstern is a fine study in both sadness and atmosphere, haunting to the last, as it should be. Hans Soltin, as Hermann, and Ruthild Engert-Ely, as Venus, are also quite good, but the definitive player in this production is, without a doubt, the lovely Cheryl Studer, in her vocal prime. From her entrance aria, Dich, teure Halle, to her final prayer, filled with sorrow and hope, she is a powerhouse of an Elizabeth; even though she doesn't appear until the beginning of the second act, she is well worth the wait.
The production is quite prepossessing, minimal in terms of sets yet maximally effective. Special kudos should go to the video director, Brian Large, who, for the most part, eschews closeups and medium shots, instead taking in the whole stage and giving the viewer a sense of being at the theater. The picture quality is stunningly clear.
Okay, Tannhauser is a five star opera, this is a five star production, with five star singers. So why only four stars? At the risk of sounding persnickety, there is a major cut at at the outset of the opera that really bothers me. The Venusberg ballet is eliminated, which is okay, it wasn't in the original score anyway, it was added for the Paris revival, at least I think so. The problem is that half the overture is cut as well. A bowdlerized overture is standard practice when the ballet is included, and that's understandable, otherwise it would be close to half an hour before any of the singers open their mouths, but minus the ballet, what's the point? Tannhauser has one of the greatest and most stirring overtures ever written, it is bold and majestic and captivating with a capital C, and given in its entirety, it gives a spendid encapsulation of the story and its themes and conflicts. Unfinished, it also sounds unfulfilling. Still, given the quality of this DVD on the whole, it's an annoyance rather than a major distraction.
One final comment dealing with the advantage of preordering these suckers prior to their official release dates. I paid twenty-one dollars for this disc a few weeks before its release, I see that the price has now gone up to forty. That's a whopping nineteen dollar difference. So it pays(literally) to keep track of the release dates of DVDs, opera and otherwise, that you are planning to buy. Just a word of advice for the uninitiated."
A Minimalist Tannhäuser, Beautifully Staged, Sung and Played
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 11/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I basically agree with the foregoing written by C. Boerger -- and urge you to read his more extensive review -- except that the cut in the beginning of the opera doesn't bother me in the least if only because what remains is so wonderfully done that I quickly forgot about it; hence my award of five stars for this fine DVD of a classic production of the opera.
I had never heard of tenor Richard Versalle and had some misgivings about an unknown Tannhäuser until I heard him begin to sing in the Venusberg scene; my fears were laid to rest. His is an echt-Wagnerian tenor and although it may not have the heft of a Melchior, neither did the voice of René Kollo, whom he had replaced in the premiere of this Wieland Wagner production a few years earlier. (This film was made in 1989; the production was new in 1984. Kollo canceled out of the premiere at the last moment -- less than an hour before the curtain was to go up -- and Versalle took his place and then returned to sing in subsequent revivals.) Further, the performance of Elisabeth by Cheryl Studer (who was also a replacement in the premiere when Gabriela Benackova simply failed to show up!) is simply marvelous. She had never sung the role before but this Studer at her absolutely best and it is a stunning portrayal. (It is amusing that the booklet notes refer to the role as 'Elsa' rather than 'Elisabeth.' Someone got their Wagnerian heroines confused!)
The leading roles are magnificently done, but then so are the smaller parts: Wolfgang Brendel's Wolfram, Hans Sotin's Landgraf, William Pell's Walther von der Vogelweide, Siegfried Vogel's Biterolf and Joy Robinson's Shepherd are all top drawer. Only slight less so is the Venus of Ruthild Engert-Ely; her plummy mezzo tends to become breathy and covered by the orchestra when the it goes below A above middle C. As for Sinopoli's conducting, I found it to be right on. I had no problem with his sometimes slower than usual tempi largely because the music is inflected in such as way as give the music life. I've rarely heard the third act prelude done so convincingly.
The staging is classic Wolfgang Wagner with the round moving stage in Act I, the round Hall of Song in Act II (a particularly lovely setting, I felt), and in Act III's minimalist mound in the valley of the Wartburg. Costumes are suitably minimalist and in muted colors but with interesting detailing.
This is a fine Tannhäuser, one that I think most lovers of the opera would enjoy.
Pros and cons.
Snake Man | UK | 08/25/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I won't pretend that I am offering a comprehensive review here but I will say that whilst, for the most part, the singing, acting, dramaturgy, conducting and orchestra are of a high quality, most of the first act is quite disappointing.
There are a number of particular problems I have with this performance: the ouverture I think is poor - some noticeable mistakes in the brass and not the most subtle interpretation that I have ever heard - I much prefer Barenboim's; Venus is just plain bad here - she is supposed to be seductive and glamorous, preferable is Meier who can play this role perfectly both in terms of singing and acting and when she opens with the 'geliebter sag' it is honey-coated whereas the Venus in this production just plain blurts out the lyrics (and does so throughout the opera) as if her preoccupation is not so much with seducing Tannhauser into staying in Venusberg but with rather controlling unpredictable bowel movements; Tannhauser is not great - again the rapport between him and Venus is just not convincing, he sometimes sings flat and his all round acting is at best adequate.
Okay, but it's not all bad. The bloke playing Wolfram is vocally excellent, the staging is appropriate - Wolfgang got a bad press in this respect I think, he allows the music to do the talking not the staging, the orchestra and conducting and general performances improve as the opera goes on. Also Studer is very good as Elisbeth - in fact, she is a reason for getting this dvd.
So, while in the first act I was shaking my head in disgust, by the end of the opera I was converted to the idea that this is not so bad a performance and is arguably worth investing in. Ultimately however, as opposed to other recently released dvds of Bayreuth productions that have rendered my appreciation of Wagner's mature operas greater (Meistersingers, Parsifal, Tristan), this particular dvd did not serve to alter my opinion that Tannhauser is in fact not a great opera but instead merely a good opera with moments of greatness."