Christof Perick
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
15 February 1992
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
HermannJan-Hendrik Rootering
TannhäuserWilliam Johns
Wolfram von EschenbachAndreas Schmidt
Walther von der VogelweideJon Fredric West
BiterolfAlan Held
Heinrich der SchreiberJohn Horton Murray
Reinmar von ZweterJeffrey Wells
ElisabethAnne Evans
VenusTatiana Troyanos
Ein junger HirtHeidi Grant Murphy
The New York Times

The season’s first performance of “Tannhauser” at the Metropolitan Opera on Thursday night was not the sort of event that would cause wooden walking sticks to miraculously sprout greenery. It also didn’t exactly lure one into the orgiastic world of the Venusberg (which Ernest Newman once called a “mountain of ill repute”). Nor did it lead one to have devout respect for the divine eroticism that leads both the sinning knight and his saintly love into a sort of unconsummated love-death. All these elements of Wagner’s drama were there, of course. But only occasionally, in individual characters, in isolated moments, did the obsessions of this work became plausible.

Such intermittent glimpses of musical power characterized the conducting of Christof Perick as well. When faced with an expanse of music that had to make its own case, as in the overtures, Mr. Perick was dutiful and dull, turning from one moment to the next just as he did last week leading “Fidelio.” But when inspired by the stage events — when leading the ensemble sections at the end of Act II or the melancholic prayers of Act III — Mr. Perick seemed a different conductor, attentively shaping a scene and the score.

Some difficulties may also have been caused by the illness of the tenor William Johns and his replacement in the title role by Reiner Goldberg. Though Mr. Goldberg, also a veteran of last week’s sorry “Fidelio,” obviously knew the role well and had no difficulty adopting the various stentorian poses called for in this production, this was strained and raw singing, easily topping the orchestral proclamations but more out of sheer force than with beauty and power.

That strain, though, was not his alone. In Venusberg, when Tannhauser wearied of the repetitive sameness of sexual desire, I would venture this audience did as well. The ballet of mock copulations in the dimly lighted, unpicturesque set was amateurish and monotonous. Tatiana Troyanos, whose considerable mezzo voice and stage presence would have been expected to dominate the scene as Venus, was less than tempting in her wide vibrato and somewhat emotionless vocal delivery. The world of knighthood was no more appealing: once Tannhauser is miraculously rescued from Venusberg, singing was just as stiff. The male septet with the Landgrave and company was a parody of forced Wagnerian voices. As for the set meant to represent the valley near the Wartburg, it was so peculiarly bleak, a friend said it looked as if the hills had been strip-mined.

The characters mellowed as the noble world of Venus’s rival, Elisabeth, became more prominent, partly because of the attractive Met debut of the British soprano Anne Evans in that role. Miss Evans has sung Brunnhilde in three Ring cycles at Bayreuth and has made Wagner something of a specialty. It was easy to see why: she has the vocal power to survive in these mythic worlds yet could project a charm and vulnerability that made her seem more human than her surroundings. Her singing was best when simplest; it could be light in spirit and crisply on pitch. It was more ordinary when she relied on the sort of vibrato everybody else used to project their voices. What was most refreshing was her articulation of the words, ordinarily lost in Wagnerian opera. Her pronunciation was occasionally too deliberate, but it was good to hear that something other than random vowels and consonants was actually being sung.

The Wartburg set for the second act, when the singing contest is performed, is the most attractive in Otto Schenk’s production: a circular hall with arches, mock medieval murals and simple wood benches and thrones. Jan-Hendrik Rootering’s Landgrave was solid and relatively expressionless. Andreas Schmidt’s paean to love was delivered with energy but without much character. And for some reason, Tannhauser was seated with his back to the audience so it was impossible to see him become possessed by passion and perversity before offering his tribute to sexual satisfaction. It was Miss Evans’s prayer for mercy and her leading of the ensemble vocal pieces at the end of the movement that gave the best impression of the sort of spirit that should suffuse this work.

The final act was generally more musical, perhaps because everyone was more subdued by impending doom. Mr. Schmidt did not need to strain in his sweetly delivered prayer to the evening star, and even Mr. Goldberg began to sound more nuanced, like a Verdian tenor rather than a Wagnerian one. It is debatable whether Tannhauser was better off satisfying his physical desires in Venusberg or posturing and straining with his fellow knights in Wartburg. But for most of the performance the cast would have been better off imitating the energy and passion of the former than the proclamations and poses of the latter.

EDWARD ROTHSTEIN | February 8, 1992

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
192 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 252 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Otto Schenk (1977)