Tannhäuser review: Wonderful Wagner with added ventriloquism

Well, what went wrong was that on the first night, just a few hours before the opera was to begin, the German tenor Stefan Winkl, who was cast in the title role, declared that the throat infection he had been suffering from had gotten worse. and he did not know how to sing. Both on that occasion and when I saw it a few days later, the audience was treated to the unusual sight of the lead tenor acting the part and speaking the words, while a substitute sang the part from the side of the stage.

The ROH were lucky enough to acquire the services of Austrian tenor Norbert Ernst in a very short time and he sang the part very well and powerfully, but the ventriloquism act took a bit of getting used to.

However, once we did, there was a lot to make up for the problems.

Wagner, as usual, wrote his own libretto and even made up his own mythical story behind it, which is a good way to make sure the words fit the music.

Tannhäuser is a great singer who feels unappreciated by the people of his town.

The wicked goddess of love Venus, however, heard his voice, fell in love with him, and lured him to her underworld lair of Venusburg, where they enjoy unspeakable pleasures together.

The opera opens with a long, dynamic overture, during which we are treated to a vigorously sensual and athletic dance crafted by choreographer Jasmin Vardimon to illustrate Venusberg’s joys.

Tannhäuser then takes her place and tells Venus that he loves being with her, but misses home and must return. Despite his annoyance, he lets him go but vows to ruin her life.

Upon his return, a singing contest is organized to welcome him back and the theme is to compose a song about the nature of true love. The other singers build pictures of unattainable joy but after each one has sung, Tannhäuser tells them that they are quite wrong and that no one who hasn’t made love to Venus doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

The townspeople are furious and want to kill him, but his old love Elisabeth demands that he make a pilgrimage to Rome to ask the Pope for forgiveness.

The Pope refuses to concede this, saying that Tannhäuser’s crime is so great that there is a greater leaf change growing on his wooden staff.

In utter despair, Tannhäuser begs Venus to accept him.

Elisabeth then kills herself so she can plead with God himself, and when she does, the Pope’s staff sprouts leaves, Tannhäuser escapes eternal damnation, and Venus sullenly slinks back to her underworld palace. So basically everyone lives unhappily afterward except for Elisabeth.

Russian soprano Ekaterina Gubanova was wickedly charming as Venus, and Canadian bass-baritone Gerald Finley brought a superbly velvety voice and acting chops to the role of Wolfram, Tannhäuser’s loyal friend, but the most impressive performance in an exceptional cast was that of the soprano. Norwegian Lise Davidsen, who sang with great passion and enormous power.

At around 6 feet 2 inches, she was also the tallest person in the cast, adding to her already formidable stage presence.

Forced ventriloquism aside, this all added up to a five star experience.

Box office: roh.org.uk or 020 7304 4000 (last function February 16)

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