Tannhäuser is Wagner's fifth opera. The story goes that famous tenor Jon Vickers - who sang many Wagner roles - refused to play this one because he found the character Tannhäuser despicable (it was due to his Christian believes that he thought so). Tannhäuser is seduced by Venus and lives in the mountain, that bears her name, a life of sin.
In an attempt to bring opera to the people as a home theatre experience producer John Culshaw seasoned the Wagner recordings he made for Decca with all kinds of sounds that made the recordings in question by times sound like a radio play. In this Tannhäuser with Georg Solti at the helm that is no different. Solti’s conducting of Wagner troubles me. His status as a Wagner conductor is undisputed but it just doesn’t seem to work for me. With Decca he worked himself through the Wagner catalogue but the results never reach the echelon of benchmark recordings. To put it short: his conducting falls short in story telling. Solti is a man of large gestures and of the bombast Wagner so often is associated with. And perhaps that’s why I don’t like him. I don’t listen to Wagner because of the supposed loudness and sonic mayhem (I put on a Napalm Death record if I want that) but for the musical subtlety and the sheer quality of the notes that both are unequalled in the world of music drama. As a conductor Solti fails to show the listener the layers in Wagner’s musical world. It fails to transcends that world into a world of the mind in which no boundaries exist and in which the listener is more than happy to get lost. Instead it reduces a place of three dimensions into flatland. It’s Wagner for the fitness room but I put on some midtempo metal if I am looking for a soundtrack for the gym thank you. As a recording this Tannhäuser is like a movie that got his head stuck in the special effects department without having a clue about the lyricism that makes a story tick. And that’s all a big pity because, as always for Decca, the singers for Solti are top notch (although Rene Kollo might be an acquired taste for many). Especially Christa Ludwig as Venus is superb. She knows how to seduce a man but like Tannhäuser himself, who doesn’t want to be in the mountain of Venus any longer, this listener takes a run from it.