Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tannhäuser (Gesamtaufnahme · Complete)
Eva Marton · Tatiana Troyanos · Richard Cassilly · Bernd Weikl · John Macurdy
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet
Production by Otto Schenk
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: Dolby Digital & DTS 5.1
A production of Metropolitan Opera Association, Inc.
R E V I E W S
Otto Schenk’s production of Tannhäuser was introduced at the Metropolitan Opera in 1977 and it remains in action, still beautiful to behold—if, only from familiarity, looking a little worn around the edges. Years ago, critic John Rockwell
referred to it as “a bulwark of enlightened conservativism,” which really goes for most of the Met’s current Wagner—the Ring, Meistersinger, even Parsifal; only Robert Wilson’s Lohengrin can be described as radical, with the company’s Holländer and Tristan occupying an intermediate “progressive” ground. The ultra-Romantic tone is locked in by a Dionysian ballet that follows James Levine’s lets-move-it-along overture. The second act has a design evoking the lofty and majestic Wartburg that the composer knew—just an hour’s drive from Bayreuth, as Wagner-loving tourists are well aware. An excellent video transfer captures well the rich colors of Patricia Zipprodt’s costumes and Gil Wechsler’s naturalistic lighting.
In the pit, Levine makes no apologies for the mongrel nature of the Paris version of the score, moving easily between Wagner’s musical syntax of the 1840s and 1860s–70s. The cast is strong: only John McCurdy’s monochrome Landgrave disappoints. Richard Cassilly really does “get” the elusive title role. As a singer, he is a good match for Tannhäuser, possessing a voice that, while not conventionally Heldentenorish, is capable of both lyrical expression and tortured declamation. Tannhäuser should start act I sounding like he’s happy about living in the Venusberg—and Cassilly does—before making an unexpected about-face. Tatiana Troyanos is a voluptuous temptress, vocally as well as visually. When the Minnesinger announces he’s leaving, she doesn’t turn witchy but plays it more like a wounded Verdian heroine, pulling out all her womanly stops to try to convince Tannhäuser to stick around.
Bernd Weikl’s Wolfram, delivered in his appealing, slightly smoky baritone, is gentle and generous but he’s no sap—Weikl seems genuinely offended by Tannhäuser’s antics at the singing contest. Eva Marton is vocally resplendent, riding confidently on Levine’s exuberant accompaniment for her first entrance (“Dich, teure Halle”) and later practically stopping the show with her touching prayer in act III. That final act truly moves from strength to strength, from Levine’s soulful introduction, to a stirring Pilgrim’s Chorus, to Marton’s aforementioned prayer, to Weikl’s enchanting “O du, mein holden Abendstern.” Then Cassilly returns to the stage looking 10 years older than he did at the end of act II (and more than a little like the guy who asks you for change on the subway) for an exceptional Rome Narrative that slowly builds in intensity. The scene is effectively set for Tannhäuser’s redemption and Levine brings it all to a satisfying conclusion with one last powerful choral/orchestral peroration. This is Wagner for non-Wagnerians—the act proceeds with a very Italianate sense of lyrically driven dramatic logic.
The camerawork is admirable: the close-ups of Cassilly at the climax of the Rome Narrative, when he cites the Pontiff’s damning verdict, are pretty scary. The sound is excellent in both stereo and multichannel (there are both DTS and Dolby Digital options), providing good vocal/instrumental balances—which is to say that we hear lots of the great Met orchestra. Subtitle choices are German, English, French, Spanish, and Chinese. An interesting bonus is a “gallery” of photos of singers who performed in Tannhäuser at the Met from the 1880s (Auguste Seidl-Kraus) to the 1990s (Bryn Terfel). And it’s hard to resist all the shots of the early-1980s vintage conductor having, as always, a great time on the podium and looking like an Al Hirschfeld caricature of James Levine: the pudgy, beaming face, the unruly frizzy hair, the oversized aviator-style glasses and big bow tie, the shiny lapels of his tuxedo. You gotta love him.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Works on This Recording
Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner
John Macurdy (Bass),
Bernd Weikl (Baritone),
Richard Cassilly (Tenor),
Eva Martón (Soprano),
Tatiana Troyanos (Mezzo Soprano)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1845/1861; Germany
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