More than ten years after the production of Nikolaus Lehnhof in 2007, Tannhäuser returns to Amsterdam. Christof Loy stages for the Dutch National Opera a new production of the opera that would keep Richard Wagner occupied until the end of his life. "I still owe the world another Tannhäuser," he would have said just before his death. Tannhäuser is about the classic struggle between heart and mind, lust and love and what it means to be a man (or human being for that matter).
It wasn't supposed to be. Tannhäuser in Paris was a fiasco. Main cause: the Jockey Club, a group of men of the aristocracy who had to miss their ballet at the beginning of the second act because Richard Wagner, that stubborn Teutone, allowed artistic reasons to take precedence over the conventions of the Grand Opera. Wagner had placed the ballet at the beginning of the opera, at the end of the overture, because from a narrative point of view it was the most logical spot. The members of the Jockey Club, who were usually still having dinner during the first act, and more into the bosoms and bare legs of the ballerinas than into opera, were all but pleased. They disturbed the performances to such an extent, handed out whistles and rattles to the audience, that Wagner felt compelled to withdraw the opera after three performances. Despite the fact that he found supporters and kindred spirits in French artists, such as Charles Baudelaire, Wagner would not live to see the day that he would be a household name in Paris; it did not leave him without a grudge. "Without any pose, I assure you that I do not believe in any revolution more than the one that starts with the burning down of Paris," he wrote, and in 1870, at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, Cosima writes in her diary: "Paris is being bombed, who doesn't want to listen, has to feel [...] Rumours about a truce. To our displeasure, R. wishes a bombardment."
The story of Tannhäuser is the story of a man who tries to find a balance between these two opposites (are they really opposites?); a search for the answer to the question how to be a man, how to be a human being. In his career, Wagner would repeatedly return to the question of lust & love, salvation and the role of women in it. In a superlative way. His talent to expose the drama hidden in the human condition with compelling musical prose can be considered awe inspiring.
so, daß mein Sehnen ewig brenne,
That my desire may ever burn
Wolfram was an exceptionally strong role by Björn Burger, a powerful interpretation of a man full of doubt- it made the principled Wolfram a more congenial man, less of a trotter, than he sometimes can be.
In Amsterdam, Ekaterina Gubanova made her role debut as Venus. She will also sing the role in Bayreuth this summer. She combined a big voice, by times a bit sharp, which was not entirely out-of-character, with a convincing stage presentation. Her Venus was a multi-layered woman who did not get stuck in lust and envy and carried the weight of her role on strong but sensitive human shoulders.
There are various ways for a director to trigger a singer/actor. For Svetlana Aksenova, the word "snow", brought up by Christof Loy, worked wonders. It opened a door in Aksenova's Russian soul and plunged her into an extraordinarily impassioned interpretation of Elisabeth.
In Tannhäuser, Wagner is still a few operas away from his with leitmotives woven tapestries of sound; the orchestral accompaniment is of a rather austere nature, is characterised by an economic use of ideas and deliberate chosen moments of exuberance. It is music that Wagner would revise several times after the premiere in Dresden and to which he would add beneficent, mystical sounds. Sounds that would bear witness to his newly acquired musical findings in a Tristanesque world, anticipating Sacre-like violence. Sounds that are like a second home for conductor Marc Albrecht. As always, Albrecht let the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra shine in romantic repertoire. In 2020 Albrecht will leave the Dutch National Opera - unfortunately without having conducted a complete Ring cycle - and with his orchestra he laid the foundation for what was a strong performance indeed.
There is usually no shortage of quality in the Wagner performances of the Dutch National Opera and also this Tannhäuser can be considered (after an excellent Tristan last year) first rate. Wagner-lovers know what to do by now, as do the rest of the opera-loving public: they will find their way to the Muziektheater in Amsterdam.
Dates 6 April until 1 May
Conductor: Marc Albrecht
Netherlands Philharmonisch Orchestra
Stage direction: Christof Loy
Decor: Johannes Leiacker
Costumes: Ursula Renzenbrink
Tannhäuser: Daniel Kirch
Elisabeth: Svetlana Aksenova
Venus: Ekaterina Gubanova
Wolfram von Eschenbach: Björn Bürger
Hermann, Landgraf von Thüringen: Stephen Milling
Walther von der Vogelweide: Attilio Glaser
Heinrich der Schreiber: Lucas van Lierop
Ein junger Hirt: Julietta Aleksanyan