Wagner’s Tannhäuser had controversial beginnings. Its premiere in Dresden on 19 October 1845 was met with incomprehension, as none of the cast, particularly the title character, were up to the score’s singular demands. Even today, Tannhäuser is seen as one of the most challenging and rewarding roles for Heldentenor. Despite its eventual success, Wagner remained dissatisfied with the work for the rest of his life; his wife Cosima’s diaries record Wagner saying just weeks before his death that he ‘still owes the world a Tannhäuser’.
In his critically acclaimed 2010 production for The Royal Opera, director Tim Albery focusses on the conflict at the heart of Tannhäuser between the sensual and the spiritual. The opening Venusberg bacchanal, choreographed by Jasmin Vardimon, is set beneath a towering replica of the Royal Opera House’s gleaming proscenium arch, designed by Michael Levin. The great song-hall of the Wartburg becomes the ruined palace of a war-torn land, the chorus of pilgrims refugees desperately seeking peace. Against this backdrop, the beauty of the score’s most acclaimed moments – including Wolfram’s ‘O du, mein holder Abendstern’, Elisabeth’s ‘Allmächt’ge Jungfrau’ and Tannhäuser’s glorious ‘Dir töne Lob’ – shine forth
The story centres around the great singer Tannhäuser tires of Venus’s love and escapes. In a song contest at home on the subject of love, Tannhäuser argues for the importance of physical desire – revealing his sin with Venus, to the people’s horror. Elisabeth, whose heart he won long ago, intercedes on his behalf. Tannhäuser is ordered to make a pilgrimage to the Pope to seek redemption, he returns home – the Pope has refused him salvation. He vows to return to Venus. News arrives that Elisabeth is dead; she has sacrificed herself for Tannhäuser’s sake. Tannhäuser realizes the extent of her love and his soul is saved.
About 4 hours 20 minutes, including two intervals
Sung in German with English surtitles
If you would like further information or book tickets, visit the Royal Opera House website here
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