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Wagner: Tannhäuser / Versalle, Studer, Sinopoli

Wagner / Versalle / Studer / Engert-ely / Brendel
Release Date: 10/31/2006 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 2072008  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Cheryl StuderSiegfried VogelRuthild EngertWolfgang Brendel,   ... 
Conductor:  Giuseppe Sinopoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival OrchestraBayreuth Festival Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Tannhäuser Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond; Richard Versalle ( Tannhäuser ); Cheryl Studer ( Elisabeth ); Wolfgang Brendel ( Wolfram ); Ruthild Engert-Ely ( Venus ); Hans Sotin ( Hermann ); Bayreuth Festival O & Ch EUROARTS Read more class="ARIAL12"> 2072008 (2 DVDs: 188:00)

In the summer of 1985, Bayreuth’s new production of Tannhäuser got off to a rough start. René Kollo was intended for the title role; he cancelled “precisely 47 minutes before the curtain went up on the first night,” this DVD’s liner notes tell us. Richard Versalle was standing by—evidently close by—and substituted for Kollo; he appeared in all of 1985’s Tannhäuser s and Wolfgang Wagner rewarded Versalle with return engagements to sing the role in 1986, 1987, and 1989. Likewise, Gabriela Bena?ková was to have been the Elisabeth but didn’t show up for rehearsals. Cheryl Studer, who was singing Freia and a minor Valkyrie in that year’s Ring , replaced her. Both artists rose to the occasion and this recording, from 1989, was a worthy undertaking.

Giuseppe Sinopoli conducts Tannhäuser as if he’s never heard the Ring or Tristan (he utilizes a variant of the Dresden version, needless to say) and his reading is floridly Romantic, in the sense of Wagner’s models as a young composer. The orchestral playing and choral performance are up to Bayreuth’s typical standards. Versalle isn’t much of an actor, but his tenor is focused, well controlled, and attractive in timbre. He assures that act II’s song contest is dramatically charged and his Rome Narrative is nicely paced, even if his recounting of the Pope’s cruel verdict isn’t the gut-wrenching climax it can be.

Studer is a disciplined but warmly appealing presence. Her first appearance in act II (“Dich, teure Halle”) has the feel of a Handel or Beethoven concert aria; the final-act prayer sounds chaste, sad, and genuinely humble. Studer’s gentle strength as she saves Tannhäuser’s hide at the end of the contest is palpable. Ruthild Engert-Ely is a good foil vocally to Studer, possessing a plusher, more sensual vocal instrument. Wolfgang Brendel is sometimes a disappointment—he seems oddly uninvolved in act I and his “Abendstern” is episodically out of tune. Hans Sotin sings the part of the Landgrave with authority.

Wolfgang Wagner’s stage design is on the minimalist side, though nothing as extreme as the “New Bayreuth” productions of the 1950s and 1960s. The closest thing to scenery is a statue of the Virgin Mary that Elisabeth kneels before in act III. The costumes are unimaginative at best and ugly at worst—in the second act, the four pages suggest extra-terrestrial bellhops; Wolfram evokes an oven mitt. Herr Wagner’s staging is frequently static—no one’s allowed even to pretend to play his harp—with a lot of prolonged, presumably meaningful stares. The sudden appearance of the chorus at the end of the opera is jarring and contrived in its execution. Two brief dance sequences, one in the first act and one in the last, are courtesy of the Györ Ballet and a bit Busby Berkley-ish, especially when the couples go around on the stage’s turntable.

The video transfer is excellent. EuroArt’s multichannel sonics engender the music-in-the-air sensation of hearing an opera in the Festspielhaus, though solo voices may be a little diffuse for some tastes; you’re forgiven if you opt for the PCM stereo. Either way, the orchestra and chorus sound magnificent. Subtitles are offered in English, German, French, and Italian. This Tannhäuser isn’t a bad choice as a Dresden complement to Levine’s DVD of the Paris version ( Fanfare 30:3).

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Picture format: NTSC 4:3 fullscreen
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 188 mins
No. of DVDs: 2

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Works on This Recording

Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Cheryl Studer (Soprano), Siegfried Vogel (Bass), Ruthild Engert (Mezzo Soprano),
Wolfgang Brendel (Baritone), Hans Sotin (Bass), Richard Versalle (Tenor)
Conductor:  Giuseppe Sinopoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845/1861; Germany 
Date of Recording: 6/1989 

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