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Wagner - Tannhauser


Hermann, Landgraf von Thuringen – Hans Sotin

Tannhauser – Richard Versalle

Wolfram von Eschenbach – Wolfgang Brendel

Walther von Vogelweide – William Pell

Biterolf – Siegfried Vogel

Heinrich der Shreiber – Sandor Solyman-Nagy

Elisabeth – Cheryl Studer

Venus – Ruthild Engert-Ely

Young Shepherd – Joy Robinson


Conductor – Giuseppe Sinopoli

Stage Director & Set Design – Wolfgang Wagner

Costume Designer – Reinhard Heinrich

TV Director – Brian Large


Euro Arts / Unitel 2072008

Filmed at Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, 1989 [188 minutes]


Quite simply, this is a classic; the Tannhauser that every Wagner enthusiast will want to have and one that should convert more to his fold.


Giuseppe Sinopoli's conducting is the lynch pin, allowing the music to unfold and blossom and giving the leitmotifs just enough emphasis to build to the glorious final scene. The Pilgrims' chorus, with its distinctive descending chords is kept tantalisingly out of reach until that moment.


Richard Wagner drew on two quite separate legends for his libretto, the mystical tale of Tannhauser and Venus and a far more factual account of Heinrich von Ofterdinger's defeat in the Wartburg song contest. He did not quite manage to combine the two stories with complete seamlessness , and his grandson Wolfgang accepts and uses this to contrast the brightly lit grand hall of the “real” world, with the muted hues of the surrounding acts where Venus can deploy her magic.


His circular sets are starkly effective, his direction leads directly from the words and music and there are no gimmicks.


The cast is headed by two great Wagnerian singers: Cheryl Studer, who made her triumphant debut as Elizabeth, and Richard Versalle (Tannhauser) whose ringing heldentenor is quite magnificent, not only in the Venusburg song but also in his long final act sequence beginning with the Rome Narration.


Wolfgang Brendel (Wolfram) makes much of the beautiful hymn to the evening star, and Joy Robinson is a particularly sweet voiced shepherd.


Brian Large takes a sensibly direct approach to the filming, often choosing a full stage view, and reserving close-ups for moments of particular importance.


The production, with this cast, was the highlight of the Bayreuth Festival throughout the late 1980s and it deserves to remain in the catalogue for a long time.


Serena Fenwick