Tannhäuser, as Wagner was the first to insist, is an unsatisfactory opera: the hero is torn between carnal and spiritual love in too simple a way, and the music that Wagner gives his protagonists often makes that clear. Wagner tampered with it more than with any other work, and told his wife before his death that he ‘still owed the world a Tannhäuser’. Simply put, it exists in two versions – the Dresden of 1845, and the Paris, with hotter lines for Venus, of 1861. This Barcelona production is basically of the Paris version.
Musically it is a decent and in some ways fine performance, but I find the production of Robert Carsen impossible. Tannhäuser is about a song contest, but Carsen’s version is about a contemporary art award. That makes for a comprehensive and ludicrous contrast between what we hear and what we see. Wagner’s text is replete with references to pilgrims, to Venus’s grotto (he originally called the opera ‘The Mount of Venus’ but thought better of it), and is pervasively medieval; no mention of paintings. Here, we have a bohemian Tannhäuser in a dirty suit, all the other male characters in smart suits, the women in contemporary frocks, and so on; no wonder non-opera-goers think the whole genre is mad. The last scene, in an art gallery, as is the song contest, has many of the masterpieces of erotic art on display. Against this background Peter Seiffert sings powerfully and expressively as Tannhäuser, and
Petra Maria Schnitzer a bit too powerfully as Elisabeth. The orchestra, under Sebastian Weigle, gives a strong account of the score, but too often it sounds distant when accompanying the singers.