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Wagner: Tannhäuser / Gambill, Nylund, Meier, Jordan

Wagner / Gambill / Nylund / Meier / Jordan
Release Date: 02/24/2009 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101351  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Camilla NylundTom FoxAndreas HörlMarcel Reijans,   ... 
Conductor:  Philippe Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic ChorusBerlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 4 Hours 38 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Tannhäuser & Philippe Jordan, cond; Robert Gambill ( Tannhäuser ); Camilla Nylund ( Elizabeth ); Waltraud Meier ( Venus ); Roman Trekel ( Wolfram ); Stephen Milling ( Landgraf ); Marcel Reijans ( Walther Read more class="ARIAL12">); Tom Fox ( Biterolf ); Deutsches SO Berlin; Vienna P Ch ARTHAUS 101 351 (2 DVDs: 263: 00) Live: Baden-Baden 7/2008

& Documentary: “Tannhäuser the Revolutionary”

There’s no stage director of Wagner operas active today with deeper insights, greater contextual mastery, and more dramatic vision than Nikolaus Lehnhoff. His takes on Tristan, Lohengrin , and—especially— Parsifal (reviewed in Fanfare issues 31:6, 30:5, and 29:2 respectively) were compelling, apart from strictly musical strengths and weaknesses. With this Tannhäuser , a coproduction of the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus (where it was filmed) and The Amsterdam Opera, Lehnhoff adds to his list of Wagnerian triumphs.

In the accompanying 58-minute documentary film by Rainer E. Moritz, “Tannhäuser the Revolutionary,” Lehnhoff offers, “Tannhäuser is a man searching for the meaning of life, a Faustian character, an Everyman. He is trying to find some meaning between incompatible worlds. . . . Tannhäuser always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” The production employs the Paris version of 1861, but to increase greatly the sense of dangerous conflict generated by the protagonist’s “revolutionary” contrariness, Lehnhoff returns the minstrel Walther von der Vogelweide’s contribution to the song contest. The director clearly views Tannhäuser as a “preliminary study” for Parsifal , except that, unlike the outsider hero of Wagner’s last opera, Tannhäuser fails to find the answers he seeks. The title character “finally runs into nothingness and bleeds to death internally.”

Robert Gambill is a workhorse of a Wagnerian singer these days and, even if he won’t be remembered 50 years from now as a great Heldentenor, is a capable and dependable musician in this repertoire. Of all the Wagner roles I’ve seen Gambill take on, Tannhäuser may be the one he’s best suited to. There’s an unremitting intensity that clues us into the character’s existential unhappiness. The Rome Narrative here takes on a hallucinatory vividness akin to Tristan’s pain-induced ravings. Gambill is wonderfully loose in the song contest; Tannhäuser is just being himself, to the consternation of all in attendance. Predictably, Waltraud Meier is an imperious, in-control Venus—very seductive vocally but still generating sympathy for her plight as Tannhäuser’s spurned lover. At the same time, Camilla Nylund’s Elizabeth is infused with a youthful energy and passion: she’s less chaste-sounding than usual, and her third act prayer is full-throated.

For Wolfram, some will prefer a plusher vocal apparatus than Roman Trekel brings to the table, but he presents his song contest bit with the sensitivity of a Lieder singer. The same goes for “O du mein holder Abendstern.” Stephen Milling is emerging as an important Wagnerian bass, rendering a commanding and solidly ethical Landgraf. I’m very eager to hear his Marke and Gurnemanz.

Philippe Jordan has the full measure of this music and exerts masterful control over the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, whose winds are especially winning. He relishes in particular the stretches of incidental music. (In the Moritz film, Jordan opines, “The Entrance of the Guests” is “the most spectacular march ever written.” Fans of Aida, Damnation of Faust , or even Sousa might dispute the point.) Only occasionally does the conductor miss the boat, as with a slight choppiness to the third act Pilgrims’ Chorus. We learn in the documentary that Jordan didn’t just arrive shortly before opening night in the manner of many celebrated modern conductors but, rather, worked closely with the singers for an extended time and had substantial interpretive discussions with Lehnhoff.

The set is striking, featuring a central spiral element. There’s not a harp in sight at any time, though the minstrels do share a 1950s-style microphone for the singing contest, adding to an American Idol kind of feel to act II’s climactic scene. Eschewing either the usual pornographic or abstracted approach for the act-I ballet, the choreographers instead give us something pretty bizarre involving the sacrifice of a bull (“a symbol of evil or darkness in Tannhäuser ,” the notes explain) performed by 16 dancers described as “worms and larvae.” They look more to me like those bendable rubber Gumby toys. Cinematography is excellent, and the 5.1 multichannel sound is very exciting, especially in the middle act with extra brasses positioned behind our listening chair. Subtitle options are English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. There are several other worthy video Tannhäuser s to consider, especially Cassily/Levine/Met and Versalle/Sinopoli/Bayreuth, but Wagner collectors shouldn’t hesitate to pick this one up as well.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint

Tannhäuser – Robert Gambill
Elisabeth – Camilla Nylund
Venus – Waltraud Meier
Wolfram von Eschenbach – Roman Trekel
Landgraf – Stephen Milling
Walther von der Vogelweide – Marcel Reijans
Biterolf – Tom Fox
Reimar von Zweter – Andreas Hörl
Heinrich der Schreiber – Florian Hoffmann
Ein junger Hirt – Katherina Müller

Nikolaus Lehnhoff, stage director
Raimund Bauer, set design
Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, costumes

Recorded live from the Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, 2008

Tannhäuser – The Revolutionary – Documentary by Reiner E. Morits including interviews with the stage director, conductor and cast as well as backstage material.

Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish
Running time: 205 mins (opera) + 58 mins (documentary)
No. of DVDs: 2 (DVD 9)
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Works on This Recording

Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Camilla Nylund (Soprano), Tom Fox (Baritone), Andreas Hörl (Bass),
Marcel Reijans (Tenor), Roman Trekel (Baritone), Robert Gambill (Tenor),
Waltraud Meier (Mezzo Soprano), Stephen Milling (Bass)
Conductor:  Philippe Jordan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Chorus,  Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845/1861; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2008 
Venue:  Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden 

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