Tannhäuser a Success

The Metropolitan Opera broadcast a performance of their current run of Tannhäuser as part of their Live in HD series on October 31st.

The performance starred Johan Botha as the knight Tannhäuser, Eva-Maria Westbroek as Elisabeth, Michelle DeYoung as Venus, Peter Mattei as Wolfram von Escenbach, Günther Groissböck as the Landgrave of Thuringia, Ying Fang as the Young Shepherd, Noah Baetge as Walther von der Vogelweide, Ryan McKinny as Biterolf, Adam Klein as Heinrich der Schreiber, and Ricardo Lugo as Reinmar von Zweter.

The production was conducted by Artistic Director James Levine.  The production team was Otto Schenk (Director), Günther  Schneider-Siemssen (Set Designer), Patricia Zipprodt (Costume Designer), Gil Wechsler (Lighting Director), and Norbert Vesak (Choreographer.)

The production takes a traditional view and does not attempt to re-invent the wheel by providing its own interpretation of Wagner’s work.  As such, we see the performance as Wagner himself wrote it, not as a director thinks about it.  This works very well in this production – the story, as told through our performers, is allowed to develop logically and thus was very moving.

Our Tannhäuser in this production suffers – happy in neither world (Venus’ or the Western culture as represented through the court of the Landgrave) and he cannot find the peace that he himself longs for.  Mr. Botha’s interpretation of the role allows us to feel Tannhäuser’s suffering, especially during the Rome narrative in Act III.

Our Venus, as portrayed by Michelle DeYoung, is charming and captivated.  As Ms. DeYoung stated during her interview in the first intermission, this Venus does love her Tannhäuser, and is upset when he wants to leave.  No wonder she is so upset when he sings about wanting his freedom!

Ms. Westbroek’s Elisabeth was extremely moving – one could understand how Elisabeth’s happiness with Tannhäuser’s return, while also agonizing with her when she finds out he was with Venus.  Her Act III aria showed just how much Elisabeth loved Tannhäuser.

Peter Mattei’s Wolfram was equally moving – he is man of his era, yet he could easily live in our world.  He is a man whose faith may have been tested by Tannhäuser’s actions, but who ends up understanding so much more than the simple notion of right and wrong.  His aria to the evening star was quite touching.

James Levine proved once again why he is my favourite conductor, especially of Wagner.  The orchestra was sensitive and moving throughout the entire performance.  Maestro Levine knows how to make the music effective and moves the soul!

This production may have originally opened in the late 1970’s, but it did not feel like it.  The cast and orchestra worked very effectively and the production only enhanced their performance.  Let’s hope for more performances with this production and cast in the years to come!

Here is a clip of Peter Mattei singing O du mein holder Abendstern from Act III:

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