Axel Kober
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
25 July 2014
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
HermannKwangchul Youn
TannhäuserTorsten Kerl
Wolfram von EschenbachMarkus Eiche
Walther von der VogelweideLothar Odinius
BiterolfThomas Jesatko
Heinrich der SchreiberStefan Heibach
Reinmar von ZweterRainer Zaun
ElisabethCamilla Nylund
VenusMichelle Breedt
Ein junger HirtKatja Stuber

A “closed system” of Tannhäuser production implodes in Bayreuth

Bayreuth Festival unveiled a new production of Tannhäuser by Sebastian Baumgarten in 2011 which proved to be unpopular with the audience and will be retired this year after four seasons, while a Bayreuth production typically runs for five. There were scattered boos after the performance this evening, likely not directed to singers but rather to production. While there was some good singing and orchestra playing, the musical performance was not particularly distinguished either to help save the occasion.

Upon entering the auditorium, the audience is confronted with an open stage which has a look of a factory, with a red cylindrical tank with white letters “Alkoholator” written on it in back center, and an open structure of tall frames with two bridges across the top. The factory represents Wartburg, the world of Elizabeth and the knights, the world from which Tannhauser fled, only to return later. Two small screens are sometimes lowered on both sides of the stage, to show images of the singers getting ready as the performance is about to begin; printed words and sentences sometimes appear to “explain” the proceedings on stage. A large screen is used as a backdrop behind the Alkoholator, but its image is not fully visible as the installation blocks part of the screen. The staging remains unchanged throughout the opera, with a large cage representing Venusberg appearing from below the floor in the first and third acts. The two worlds of Tannhauser are both contained within the closed system of the factory which recycles biological elements to create food and alcohol.

Some audience members sit on both sides of the stage, which seems to indicate the director’s intention to integrate the audience into the performance and even make them part of the scenary. Most of the performers of the opera are dressed as workers in the factory, and the pilgrims’ chorus in the third act is sung by a cleaning crew. There is a reference to the gas chamber in the second act as some workers are first deprived of their jewels and then sent into a large box with a door closing on them as the chorus sings. Venus is pregnant as the opera begins, and gives birth at the end. A group of sperms dance around the Venusburg cage, joined by other non-human creatures as the chorus swells into a moving musical finale.

There are some clever and even insightful aspects to the production, the most obvious being the two worlds and the two women of Tannhäuser being of essentially the two sides of the same coin, hence they are all in the factory. Elisabeth is the only member to escape the circular factory system, as she kills herself by entering a biogas tank; her image appears on the back screen soon after, only to be dissolved into elemental matters.

One redeeming quality of the production is that there is clear stage direction for the singers and the chorus, and their movements were well choreographed and effective. Staging is busy but not noisy and thus does not interfere with the musical performance. However, the production remains puzzling and confusing, and its concept is elusive. Imposing the installation by a well-known artist to represent the Wagner’s musical world on a seemingly ad hoc basis just does not work.

Axel Kober conducted with more attention to details of the music than its overall arc, and the overture was uncharacteristically lacking in bombastic volume; rather, it was almost chamber music like. Strings were particularly notable, as was the brass section; the entrance of the guests in Act 2 had six trumpet players on the bridge on top of the installation, and their placement created a wonderful acoustic effect. The famous Bayreuth chorus again distinguished itself, especially in the rousing pilgrims’ chorus and in the beautiful final chorus of a heavenly hymn.

Among the soloists, Camilla Nylund’s Elisabeth and Kwangchul Youn’s Landgraf deservedly received the most applause at the curtain calls. Nylund’s rich and largely vibrato-free soprano voice was never shrill, and she produced some thrilling high notes as well as touching pianissimo phrases during her prayer in Act 3. Youn was a solid anchor among the male soloists with his deep but flexible bass.

Markus Eiche as Wolfram was a sympathetic friend to both Tannhäuser and Elisabeth, and his sometimes bland baritone was nevertheless effectively deployed for a moving hymn to the evening star as he danced with Venus while singing. Michelle Breedt distinguished herself as Venus, with an evenly and warmly produced voice for Venus’s treacherous music; she also acted the part of a vain and sometimes flighty character with finesse. Thomas Jesatko was a memorable Biterolf with his strong voice; soprano Katja Stuber sang a brief part of a young shepherd with clear and penetrating voice.

The title role was sung by Torsten Kerl. a German tenor with a distinguished career in mostly German repertoire. His voice unfortunately lacked sheen and heft in Act 1, and he had trouble with high notes during the three stanzas of Tannhäuser’s plea with Venus. The dryness in his voice culminated to a cracked high note at the end of Act 1. He recovered and was in better voice after the intermission, and his singing in Act 3 was impressive, especially the Roman narrative. His posture became erect and his voice more stern and haughty as he recounted the experience of being condemned by the Pope in Rome, a striking piece of vocal acting.

Overal, the quality of musical performance unfortunately failed to rise above the confusing production, and while the audience gave an enthusiastic reception at the end of the opera, I, for one, will not be sorry to see this production retired one year early.

Ako Imamura, 19 August 2014


Always controversial in their revisionist approach to Wagner’s legacy, the 2014 Tannhäuser is fairly typical of recent Bayreuth productions. The stage set is constructed out of a number of independently created art installations that were never created with Wagner’s opera in mind. If it isn’t a perfect tailor-made fit then for the ideas and themes in the opera, much less the stated settings, it does however form an interesting dialectic that encourages the viewer to see the work in a new light, and is somewhat successful in how it informs and puts across the all-important musical aspect of the work.

Director Sebastian Baumgarten’s idea is to bring together several art installation pieces by the artist and sculptor Joep van Lieshout. These pieces, with names like Alcoholator, Disciplinator and Technocrat, are processes that produce a ‘biogas’, the whole system forming a kind of working model for the cyclical human and bodily processes that generate life and, by extension, art. Which, if you look at it broadly and in the abstract, is more or less what Tannhäuser is about. It’s not enough to simply follow the old stage directions, and reverential literalism is by no means the philosophy of the current Bayreuth administration. They are aware that Wagner’s works must be constantly scrutinised in order to remain relevant, but the balance between real significance and pretension is always hard to maintain.

If you want to look at the theme of Tannhäuser on a more simplistic level, it’s about the co-dependency of physical and the spiritual. Even then it has to be acknowledged that the work is a little more complicated than that. There is also an outlook on society as a whole, on the role of the artist, and of course it’s all tied up in Wagner’s own complex and contradictory impulses, political vision and developing philosophical outlook. Baumgarten’s Tannhäuser follows a similar path to Hans Neuenfels’ laboratory experiment ‘rat’ Lohengrin for Bayreuth, viewing the work as a model of society, taking in Wagner’s perspective and extending it to a more modern outlook. It’s not so much trying to update it or make it fit as use it as a means to revisit the work and explore whether it really has something new to inform our view of the world we live in today.

Baumgarten of course doesn’t simply just use the installations as a backdrop. There has to be consideration given to how the drama and the music interact with the set design. It’s an impressive construction, if initially bewildering, the stage filled with stage hands who operate the machinery, regulating and monitoring the meters that convert the liquids and solids into biogas, cleaning-up the mess it creates. These processes extend way beyond the musical performance, starting while the audience take their seats and continuing through the intervals. There even seems to be a mass for the operators taking place on the stage in-between acts. The audience too are given a place in the interaction of the installation and the performance, with a number of them seated to the sides of the stage.

I’m not sure that the director really manages to draw anything new out of Tannhäuser, but it does encourage anyone who thinks they are familiar with the work to reconsider more deeply what it is about, and question whether those contradictions and inconsistencies within it aren’t actually essential to its purpose. It does at least, I find, explore the characters in greater detail, and not just Tannhäuser, but also Venus and Elisabeth and the relationships between them. Wolfram von Eschenbach also comes out of this production with a role that suddenly seems more significant, but it seems to me that as much of the strength of the characterisation here is also down to how it is performed.

Whatever you make of the Bayreuth stage production, musically it’s a glorious affair that does open up the work and reveal new qualities. It’s not a forceful, driving traditional Wagnerian interpretation of Tannhäuser, but one that finds the true delicacy and poignancy within what is surely the most Romantic of Wagner’s works on the misunderstood, suffering, exiled artist as national or social hero. Alex Kober’s conducting of the orchestra is outstanding and the chorus are superb, as they really have to be in this particular work. There’s not a trace of heavy-handedness, yet all the force and dynamic of the work is there, measured and applied in such a way that it works hand-in-hand with the production.

The singing likewise is never forced. I thought at first that Camilla Nylund was underpowered here as Elisabeth. Knowing what she is capable of, it sounded like she was conserving her voice, but the more gentle delivery and the colour that Nylund is able to apply actually pays dividends with Elisabeth and her nature here. This is also borne out in the performances of Michelle Breedt’s Venus, but particularly in Markus Eiche’s excellent and impressive Wolfram. The complex character of Tannhäuser is another matter however, and requires a different approach. Torsten Kerl achieves a good balance between the more lyrical side of his character and the Romantic heldentenor, his performance also covering all the playfulness, bawdiness, irreverence and the more serious, spiritual as well as the vainglorious sides of the character.

The Opus Arte Blu-ray release presents all the colour and brightness of the busy Bayreuth stage very well. Spread over two BD50 discs, there is the option to view the musical performance alone or, if you’ve an hour or so to spare and are interested in the set as an art installation piece, you can view it interspersed with all the extra performance art set-pieces in-between. Audio tracks are PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1, both giving an impressive full uncompressed true HD sound. The interviews on the disc and in the booklet provide much more useful information about the concept. Subtitles on the disc are English, French, German and Korean only.


The Baumgarten/van Lieshout production of Tannhäuser opened at Bayreuth in July 2011, conducted by Thomas Hengelbrock. The production was not well received – according to Mark Ronan’s review in the Telegraph, the production team received vocal boos with not a single clap of applause. This Blu-ray was recorded three years later, on 12 August 2014 with Axel Kober at the podium and a substantially different cast (only Camilla Nylund remains of the original principals). Judging by the applause at the end, the Bayreuth audience seems to have mellowed with time. My own sympathies lie somewhere between the hostile 2011 audience and the more generous 2014 audience.

There are lots of good ideas in this production. Basing the staging on the Dutch performance sculptor Joep van Leishout’s installation “Technocrat” is one of them. I may be an outlier here, but I found the inside of a factory both visually appealing and an interesting metaphor for the world that Tannhäuser opposes to the Venusberg – and also for Tannhäuser’s own experimentation. The Venusberg itself is a cylindrical cage that arises out of the bowels of the stage at appropriate moments, bathed in red light. I also liked the way that Venus makes silent appearances outside the Venusberg, both in person (in the Act II contest, for example, where she has a seat in the audience) and metaphorically (in Elizabeth’s bright red dress and her occasional departures from maidenly decorum). There is definitely the making of a good production here.

There are also some truly awful ideas. Having Venus be heavily pregnant is one of them. Her fumbled couplings with Torsten Kerl, who is roly poly at best, looked ridiculous, and a powerful final scene was weakened by the eventual appearance of Venus’s baby. Nor is there any need for slapstick between Tannhäuser and a conspicuously inebriated shepherd at the beginning of the Wartberg scene in Act I. In fairness, though, most contemporary Wagner productions have at least one absurdity in them.

The real problem with this production is that there is far too much going on. Van Leishout’s installation has multiple levels. This allows the characters to move around, breaking the visual monotony of some of the set pieces. But why have extras constantly moving around doing mysterious things with machinery? Further distraction comes from the projected son-et-lumière show at the rear of the stage. Not a bad idea, and the images were interesting. But in the context of everything else going on all it did was add to the confusion. Joep van Leishout and Sebastian Baumgarten really need to learn that less is often more. It’s not a coincidence, I think, that the most visually satisfying part of the performance was Act III, where the “busy-ness” levels seemed significantly lower. With less conceptual clutter the dramatic devices came across more effectively – e.g., Wolfram dancing with Venus and the obsessive cleaning of the “cleansed” pilgrims.

The vocal highlights of the performance are Markus Eiche’s Wolfram von Eschenbach and Camilla Nylund’s Elisabeth. Eiche combines delicacy and command. Wolfram comes across as much more complex and less “fussy” than he is often portrayed. Eiche is particularly fine in the opening of Act III. Elizabeth, who is so often portrayed as a rather smug puritan, is also revealed to be a much more multi-dimensional character who Like Tannhäuser battles with the temptations of the Venusberg. Michelle Breedt’s Venus sings with verve and passion in the Venusberg, but doesn’t project as well as she might. Kwangchul Youn is a fine Landgrave, although the role does not demand much by way of acting.

The real disappointment was Torsten Kerl’s Tannhäuser. As so often the tenor lead is the weak link in the chain. Kerl has certainly got the volume of a heldentenor. This serves him well in his entrance into the Wartburg in Act I, and again in the climactic moments in Act II when he has to project over the choir and full orchestra. But he falls sadly short wherever vocal characterization is called for. There some moments in Act III (particularly recounting his pilgrimage to Rome) when Kerl shows what he might be capable of, but he soon lapses back into belting it out at the top of his voice. His enthusiastic reception by the Bayreuth audience surprised me.

The Bayreuth Festival Orchestra is in fine voice in this performance. Axel Kober (music director of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein) made his Bayreuth debut in 2013. He is clearly at home with the score and paces the work extremely well, maintaining dramatic focus through the music even it appears to be total chaos on stage. The partnership between orchestra and choir is excellent, with both outbound and inbound pilgrims’ choruses working extremely effectively – at least from a musical point of view, it being a tribute to Chorus Master Eberhard Freidrich that the choir sings so well even when asked to do rather bizarre things on stage.

The sound quality is very good. I listened in LPCM stereo – a DTS multichannel option is also available. There is fine camera work (including some unusual overhead shots) and the Blu-ray is well-provided with extras, including biographies of the principals. My only complaint is that Opus Arte (unforgivably) play the credits over the opening of the overture – this ghastly habit has to stop! It would be hard to recommend this as a go-to Tannhäuser, but the concept of the production is interesting and controversial enough that Wagnerians not able to get to Bayreuth will want to take a look themselves.

José Luis Bermúdez

Die Welt

Beim ungeliebten “Tannhäuser” hakt der Venusberg

Die Eröffnung der Bayreuther Festspiele begann mit technischen Problemen und endete mit Buh-Rufen. Das Publikum wird Sebastian Baumgartens “Tannhäuser” nicht vermissen. Dabei gab es Verbesserungen.

Angela Merkel hat also doch was verpasst. Die Kanzlerin, treue Besucherin der Bayreuther Festspiele, ist dieses Mal nicht zur Eröffnung gekommen. Daran dürfte neben den ganzen außenpolitischen Notsituationen auch das Bayreuther Programm nicht ganz unschuldig sein: Die Festspiele haben in diesem Jahr keine echte Neuproduktion, weil im letzten Jahr mit Frank Castorfs “Ring des Nibelungen” gleich vier neue Opern zu stemmen waren.

Dafür gab es an diesem Freitag zum Festivalauftakt nur wieder den “Tannhäuser” in der wenig beliebten Inszenierung von Sebastian Baumgarten, die schon seit 2011 bekannt ist. Viele Bayreuther Stammgäste dürften sich deshalb in diesem Jahr die Premiere gespart haben.

Aber das war ein Fehler, denn sie hätten bei einem Stück Hügelgeschichte dabei sein können. Der “Tannhäuser” wird nun nicht mehr nur als “der mit der Biogasanlage” im Gedächtnis bleiben, sondern auch als “der mit dem hakenden Venusberg”: Nach der Ouvertüre sollte sich in der Bühnenmitte ein runder Käfig aus dem Boden erheben, in dem Tannhäuser mit der Venus und ihrem Gefolge tanzt. Aber nach einem krachenden Geräusch und zu Boden fallenden Metallteilen blieb der Käfig stecken, war nur halb zu sehen.

Die Sänger spielten zunächst weiter, während unter der Bühne an dem Käfig gerüttelt wurde, um die Mechanik wieder in Gang zu bringen. Gut zwanzig Minuten nach Beginn der Oper fiel dann doch der Vorhang, die Vorstellung wurde unterbrochen und die Premierengäste mussten eine gute halbe Stunde draußen warten. Danach begannen die Musiker noch einmal mit der ersten Szene nach der Ouvertüre. Die Panne passte zu dem Eindruck, den die Produktion nun schon seit Jahren macht: In diesem “Tannhäuser” ist der Wurm drin.

Rammstein-Songtitel treffen Wagner-Essays

Immerhin: Die Regie hat sich in diesem Jahr Mühe gegeben, die Inszenierung wenigstens noch mal ein bisschen aufzufrischen mit kleinen neuen Details und insgesamt mit besserem Zusammenspiel der Sänger. Sebastian Baumgarten hatte vorher in einem Interview gesagt: “Wenn man so viel gescholten wird für eine Arbeit, dann ist man schon an dem Punkt, wo man diese Arbeit genau reflektiert.”

Und so gibt es Abschnitte im Stück, in denen das Bühnengeschehen deutlich lebendiger und abwechslungsreicher wirkt als in den Vorjahren. Der Sängerwettstreit im zweiten Akt etwa ist mittlerweile ein schlüssiges Bild geworden. Tannhäuser hat der sündigen Liebe zur Venus abgeschworen und will ein neues Leben am Hof des Landgrafen Hermann beginnen. Er willigt ein, sich mit den anderen Edlen einen Gesangswettbewerb um die Hand der schönen Grafennichte Elisabeth zu liefern.

Die Hofgesellschaft, die sich für so tugendhaft hält, ist bei Baumgarten eine gleichgeschaltete Sekte, deren in bunten Overalls steckende Mitglieder ihre Leidenschaften notdürftig mit Schnaps unter Kontrolle halten. Sie leben klinisch rein; ihre Exkremente werden gesammelt und, aufbereitet zu Nahrungsmitteln, wieder in den Stoffwechselkreislauf eingespeist. Es ist die größenwahnsinnige, totalitäre Idee eines geschlossenen Systems, in dem die menschliche Seele beherrschbar gemacht werden soll.

Im Sängerwettstreit lässt Tannhäuser diese Illusion auffliegen und predigt die Liebe als Erfüllung körperlicher, unkontrollierbarer Begierden. Baumgarten schafft es, die heimliche, subversive Begeisterung spürbar zu machen, die die Höflinge insgeheim für Tannhäusers Ideen hegen. Als personifizierte Gegensätze schauen Elisabeth und die schwangere Venus das Treiben mit an. Elisabeth dreht am Ende durch und schneidet sich Stigmata in die Handinnenflächen, während Venus einen Freudentanz zeigt.

Das Problem bleibt aber, dass Baumgarten es nie bei einem klaren Gedanken belässt, sondern jede dramatische Situation durch eine zweite, dritte, x-te Bedeutungsebene aufzuladen versucht – bis am Ende niemand mehr durchblickt. Ständig flimmern wirre Zitate über Videoleinwände, werden Rammstein-Songtitel, Bibelsprüche, Richard-Wagner-Essays eingeblendet. Alles spielt sich ab in dem sterilen Bühnenbild des Installationskünstlers Joep van Lieshout mit seinen farbigen Stahlkesseln, das als eigenständiges Kunstwerk noch wieder eigene Assoziationen aufrufen soll. Und am Ende nimmt sich Elisabeth im Biogastank das Leben. Es sind einfach ein paar Windungen zu viel.

Baumgarten zeigt sich zum Ausbuhen

Die Musik kann an diesem Premierenabend die Probleme nur zum Teil ausgleichen. Das Bayreuther Festspielorchester kennt das Stück in- und auswendig; entsprechend souverän spielen die Musiker jede noch so kleine Girlande. Aber Dirigent Axel Kober macht viel zu wenig Gebrauch von seinem Orchester. Er setzt auf Transparenz, lässt viel Luft zwischen den Tönen, lässt überdeutlich phrasieren, aber alles bleibt dabei zu verhalten und vorsichtig. Die großen Gefühle, die sentimentalen Ausbrüche bleiben aus.

Die Sänger absolvieren das Stück, ohne zu glänzen. In der Titelrolle weiß Heldentenor Torsten Kerl mit einem schmelzigen Timbre zu gefallen und teilt seine Kräfte clever ein; gegen Ende des ersten Aktes schien er schon fast verausgabt zu sein, konnte aber in der wilden Rom-Ezählung im dritten Akt noch beachtliche Spitzentöne über die Rampe bringen. Die Venus Michelle Breedt ging dafür fast völlig unter.

Die Sopranistin Camilla Nylund berührt als innige, gefühlvolle Elisabeth, aber die letzte Strahl- und Durchschlagskraft geht auch ihr ab. Der Lauteste im Ensemble war erstaunlicherweise Bariton Markus Eiche; er sang die Rolle des Wolfram von Eschenbach, die eigentlich meist von weicheren, melancholischen Stimmen übernommen wird. Eiche gewann ihr aber mit seiner brillanten Klarheit neue Facetten ab. Und ist seit langer Zeit der erste Wolfram, dessen triumphaler Ruf “Heinrich, du bist erlöst!” am Ende des Stücks auch in der hintersten Reihe noch ankam.

Es ist die letzte Saison für diesen ungeliebten “Tannhäuser”, am Ende dieser Festspiele wird er vorzeitig vom Spielplan genommen. Regisseur Baumgarten zeigte sich als sportlicher Verlierer und betrat beim Schlussapplaus zumindest noch einmal die Bühne, um sich den Buhrufen der Zuschauer auszusetzen. Nächstes Jahr um diese Zeit bringen Katharina Wagner und Christian Thielemann einen neuen “Tristan” heraus. Dann kommt bestimmt auch wieder Angela Merkel.

Lucas Wiegelmann


Chère Roselyne*, ce Lohengrin qu’on vous a reproché avec acrimonie, je ne le verrai pas, mais j’ai vu, sans me sentir plus coupable que vous, un Tannhäuser qui m’a amené à m’interroger encore sur les choix de la direction du festival. En effet bien que la mise en scène n’en soit pas signée Frank Castorf, elle relève du même esprit, avec peut-être un degré de plus dans la manipulation puisque la représentation donnée à scène ouverte commence avant la musique et se poursuit pendant les entractes, avec ce qui nous a semblé être, avant le troisième acte, une parodie de l’eucharistie qui a suscité quelques remous et va dans le même sens que la vidéo de la Vierge frétillant des arpions avant de se montrer dépoitraillée. L’œuvre de Wagner s’inscrit donc dans un projet qui la dépasse et auquel elle est doit se subordonner. Il serait long de détailler tous les points d’achoppement ! En voici quelques uns : le Vénusberg se situant dans les caves de la Wartburg (les dessous de scène où il peut disparaître et ré-émerger) tous les chevaliers en connaissent l’existence et y sont tous un jour ou l’autre allés, donc l’absence prolongée de Tannhäuser perd son caractère mystérieux et la sollicitude ou la réprobation dont on l’entoure ne sont qu’hypocrisie. D’autant que l’alcool distillé en citerne à la Wartburg est consommé directement dans la cage du Vénusberg. Ensuite Vénus est grosse, je veux dire enceinte, probablement des œuvres de Tannhäuser, et elle s’invite au tournoi de la Wartburg. Il y a encore les pèlerins au comportement de zombies, qui semblent tous atteints des mêmes tocs et victimes d’une aliénation collective. Et il y a bien sûr Elisabeth, en pleine névrose hystérique, qui s’automutile et finit par se suicider en s’enfermant dans la cuve de fermentation des déchets.

Les signataires sont Joes van Lieshout pour cette « installation artistique » qui n’est pas un simple décor mais a sa vie propre, et Sebastian Baumgarten pour la mise en scène. Le premier s’est plu à imaginer cette représentation d’un projet industriel autour du thème si actuel de la biomasse, création qui préexistait à cette production de Tannhäuser. Quel objectif avait le second ? Démystifier, encore et encore ? Dénoncer l’identité entre bien-pensants et créateurs bénéficiaires d’un système, leur collusion avec l’opium du peuple dans une entreprise commune d’exploitation et d’asservissement ? Cela se tient. Mais était-ce le propos principal de Wagner ? Son personnage doit résoudre un dilemme, tiraillé qu’il est entre son addiction aux plaisirs charnels et son aspiration à une relation amoureuse où ils seraient le prolongement légitime d’un attachement spirituel (et l’on peut supposer qu’on trouve là un écho de la vie personnelle du compositeur dans lequel Baudelaire retrouvait la sienne). C’est le motif du scandale qu’il crée au tournoi, en soutenant l’importance de l’amour physique. Mais cela ne suffit pas au metteur en scène : son Tannhäuser, manifestement imbibé de l’alcool longtemps consommé au Vénusberg, bafoue les codes de la civilité et témoigne maints égards à la scandaleuse Vénus. Le Christ n’en usait pas autrement avec Marie-Madeleine ? Mais Wagner a-t-il prévu la présence de Vénus au tournoi ? Et que devient le thème essentiel de la rédemption, à laquelle Wagner voulait croire ? L’enfant de Vénus, brandi dans le tableau final, en serait-il l’incarnation ? Chère Roselyne, c’est un grand tort que d’être mort !

Par bonheur, même si l’installation matérielle et les partis pris discutables dérangent assez pour perturber l’écoute, les qualités de l’exécution vocale et musicale parviennent cependant à s’imposer. Les chœurs, même lorsqu’ils doivent se déplacer dans des soutanes rouges plus évocatrices de l’uniforme d’une secte que de tenues de servants de messe, figurer les courtisans ou mimer le troupeau hébété sont aussi splendides qu’on peut les rêver, avec une palette d’intensités si riche qu’elle met proche de la béatitude, et qui vaudra à Eberhard Friedrich de longues acclamations. Aucune faille notable dans la distribution. Le pâtre de Katja Stuber est primesautier et impertinent comme un Oscar. Tous les chevaliers sont remarquables d’expressivité vocale et théâtrale, même le moins exposé, tel Rainer Zaun (Reinmar von Zweter). Stefan Heibach (Heinrich der Schreiber), Thomas Jesatko (Biterolf), Lothar Odinius (Walther von der Vogelweide) ont chacun le mordant vocal et la conviction qui donne vie à la confrontation. Favorisé dans le rôle de Wolfram von Eschenbach Markus Eiche a quant à lui toute la souplesse et le sens du legato requis, et la romance est bien le délice attendu. (Pendant le tournoi, durant son lied comparant l’aimée à une étoile Vénus s’était levée pour saluer…) Kwangchul Youn prête sa basse inaltérée à Hermann le Landgrave, notable un rien compassé. La Vénus de Michelle Breedt est bien chantée, mais la voix est un peu claire pour notre goût, les premiers aigus sonnent légèrement acides, et un rien de moelleux en plus l’aurait rendue plus sensuelle. Plus de moelleux également, nous l’aurions souhaité pour Elisabeth, peut-être parce que celle de Nina Stemme nous est restée dans l’oreille ; mais celle de Camilla Nylund ne démérite en rien et sa composition théâtrale et vocale d’un personnage frustré et hystérique (que nous n’aimons pas) lui ont valu à juste titre de tonitruantes ovations. Dans le rôle-titre c’est une joie de constater que Torsten Kerl semble avoir résolu des difficultés récurrentes. La voix ne s’étrangle plus et ne part dans le nez que très rarement. La souplesse est là, la crânerie semble retrouvée avec la vaillance et si l’on peut préférer d’autres timbres on ne peut qu’admirer la réussite, qui culmine dans le récit, même si la fatigue s’y fait légèrement sentir, mais après tout le pèlerin est épuisé et c’est peut-être un effet de l’art, car même le comédien semble avoir fait de grands progrès et s’être investi totalement dans le rôle. Dirigé avec une netteté sans bavure par Axel Kober, qui accueille les ovations avec le retrait distingué d’un Karajan, l’orchestre démontre ses qualités de brillant, d’homogénéité et de ductilité, avec des trompettes virtuoses au sein de cuivres rutilants et des cordes sidérantes dans la diversité colorée de leurs voix. Vous aviez connu vous aussi ce bonheur, du moins je l’imagine, avec Lohengrin. Tout de même, on dira ce qu’on voudra, ce Wagner, quel magicien !

Maurice Salles | mar 12 Août 2014

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Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 439 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast from the Bayreuth festival
A production by Sebastian Baumgarten (2011)
There was a break after the ouverture due to technical reasons in the Festspielhaus.