Wagner: Tannhäuser

ALBUM TITLE: Wagner Tannhäuser
WORKS: Tannhäuser
PERFORMER: Hans Sotin, Spas Wenkoff, Bernd Weikl, Robert Schunk, Franz Mazura, John Pickering, Heinz Feldhoff, Gwyneth Jones; Bayreuth Festival Chorus & Orchestra/Colin Davis; dir. Götz Friedrich (Bayreuth, 1978)
CATALOGUE NO: 073 4446
At last on DVD, a legendary staging which really did revitalise its subject. In this 1972 Bayreuth production, filmed in 1978, the late Götz Friedrich’s concept is striking, but rooted in Wagner’s original concept rather than arrogantly imposed. He reveals the somewhat fustian plot as sharply relevant, yet without distorting or relocating it in ways Wagner wouldn’t have recognised. Friedrich’s Tannhäuser is the universal artist, torn between idealism and raw desires. In John Neumeier’s genuinely erotic choreography, the ballet becomes images of love from the innocent to the destructive. The medieval totalitarianism of the knights is no less sinister and the quest of the pilgrims a gruelling, earthbound redemption. Tellingly, both aspects of Tannhäuser’s desire, the alluring but morbid Venus and the innocent Elizabeth, are embodied by Gwyneth Jones. The staging’s intensity, on a single stark rostrum, is supercharged by the committed, first-rate ensemble 1970s Bayreuth could still produce. Colin Davis conducts the usual hybrid Paris-Dresden edition with theatrical drive. The chorus is simply stunning. Spas Wenkoff surpasses himself as a credible hero, sung with ardour and beauty. Jones is also in fine shape, singing with tragic fervour and little unsteadiness. Bernd Weikl’s Wolfram is strong, and Hans Sotin’s Landgraf resonantly powerful. This isn’t a beautiful staging like the Met’s, but musically superior and more dramatic. Michael Scott Rohan