Although it’s always a pleasure to hear maestro James Levine lead the Met Opera orchestra – and Tannhäuser features some of composer Richard Wagner’s most gorgeous music – I don’t think I will ever love this opera. It’s a battle between pagan goddess of love Venus and a clutch of goody-goody Christians over the soul of the titular minstrel, and the Christians win. I’m on Venus’s side, so this is just a plain old bummer for me.
Still, almost all of the best music goes to Venus and her minions – granted, the Christians’ “Pilgrim Chorus” is the most beautiful thing in the show, but everything else good is in pagan-land. Oh, there’s one exception, the young shepherd’s song (divinely delivered here by Ying Fang), which is positioned with delicately balanced naivete between Tannhäuser’s time with Venus and his return to Christian Wartburg.
I can envision a production that follows Wagner’s musical cues, in which the Christian morality would be militaristically enforced but insincere, and the Venusian sensuality voluptuous but dangerously wild. But that is not this production, by a long shot.
Director Otto Schenk’s production is very conservative, but in the best possible way. I’m not personally compelled by his vision of Venus’s realm, but it is arguably very close to Wagner’s own vision. When it comes to Wartburg, however, Schenk has absolutely nailed the feel of that place in Tannhäuser’s time (the early 13th Century).
This is traditional opera at its most sturdy and compulsively watchable, really a vehicle for the singers to shine. My personal favorites on the night I went were Michelle DeYoung as a deeply sensual Venus, and Günther Groissböck as truly noble Landgraf Hermann – largely because they were easily the best actors in an ensemble of uniformly impressive vocal power.
How to put this; I recommend this as highly as I ever could recommend traditionally staged Wagner. Yep, this is as good as that kind of thing gets.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.