Tannhäuser

Daniel Barenboim
Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin
Staatskapelle Berlin
Date/Location
May/June 2001
NLG Berlin
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
HermannRené Pape
TannhäuserPeter Seiffert
Wolfram von EschenbachThomas Hampson
Walther von der VogelweideGunnar Gudbjörnsson
BiterolfHanno Müller-Brachmann
Heinrich der SchreiberStephan Rügamer
Reinmar von ZweterAlfred Reiter
ElisabethJane Eaglen
VenusWaltraud Meier
Ein junger HirtDorothea Röschmann
Gallery
Reviews
Guardian

Wagner worried away at Tannhäuser for more than half his creative life. He was still actively revising the score in 1875, three decades after it had first been performed in Dresden, during the composer’s seven years there as royal Kapellmeister – the period in which he also finished The Flying Dutchman, composed Lohengrin and drafted the outlines of The Ring and The Mastersingers.

As a result Tannhäuser presents more complex textual problems to performers than any other Wagner work, though basically there are two alternatives: the original Dresden version, and the substantial revision that was produced for Paris in 1861. For this studio recording, Daniel Barenboim conducts what is basically the Dresden score, except for the second scene of the first act – Tannhäuser’s big confrontation with Venus and her sirens – when he opts for what was written for Paris. Leaving musicological purity aside for a moment, one can understand the dramatic reasons for Barenboim’s decision to present a hybrid. The music of this crucial scene is far more erotically charged music in the revision, which was composed after Wagner had completed Tristan und Isolde.

The effect of making this compromise is to load the odds in the battle for Tannhäuser’s soul in favour of Venus’s seductive charms and against the Christian purity of the faithful Elisabeth, which makes the redemption of the final scene even more miraculous. And when, as on this recording, you have Waltraud Meier as Venus (who also sang the role on Bernard Haitink’s fine version of the Dresden score for EMI), wonderfully seductive and caressing every phrase, the case for eroticism seems unanswerable. Up against Meier, Jane Eaglen’s shrill and verbally indistinct Elisabeth really does not get much of a look-in. Between them Peter Seiffert as Tannhäuser provides what is probably as good a performance as you are likely to get from a German tenor in this hugely demanding role these days; sometimes his tone seems unvaried, and it gets edgy when pressurised, but generally his delivery is clear, direct and unflagging.

Emphasising the central polarity between good and evil, chastity and indulgence, does give the drama real momentum. Tannhäuser can seem like a very long haul, but Barenboim keeps it moving and responds shrewdly to every twist and nuance in the music. The sound he obtains from the Berlin Staatskapelle is wonderfully transparent, the solo playing is crammed with character and there is never any doubt that we are listening to early Wagner. Some passages trip along with the lightness and feathery articulation of Mendelssohn, and there’s no sense of a fat cushion of sound being used to buoy up the voices. The supporting roles – led by Thomas Hampson’s slightly all-purpose Wolfram, and René Pape as a solid Hermann – are thoroughly prepared too. Anyone who has been following Barenboim’s Wagner cycle for Teldec are unlikely to be disappointed by this latest instalment.

Andrew Clements

Gramophone

This must be one of the most opulent recordings made of any opera. The truly remarkable range, perspective and balance of the sound is most appropriate for a work conceived on the grandest scale, yet it retains its focus in the more intimate scenes. The achievement of Barenboim’s Berlin chorus, so important in this opera, and orchestra could hardly be bettered. The results are, if nothing else, an audio treat, surpassing the DG version’s rather hit-and-miss engineering and the now slightly dated feel of the Decca. Indeed, it’s Konwitschny’s 1960 set (EMI) that comes closest to the Teldec in terms of sonic breadth.

Domingo recorded Tannhäuser for DG but shied away from it onstage. The title-role, as many tenors admit, is a real killer. Seiffert is probably its most telling exponent: his performance combines vocal assurance and emotional involvement to create a vivid portrait of the hero torn between sacred and profane love. The objects of Tannhäuser’s attention are impressively portrayed by Waltraud Meier and Jane Eaglen. Meier makes the most of the bigger opportunities and brings her customary tense expression to bear on Venus’s utterance, while not quite effacing Christa Ludwig’s voluptuous reading for Solti. Eaglen launches herself into the Hall of Song with a rather squally ‘Dich teure Halle’; thereafter she sings with much of the inner feeling and prayerful dignity predicated by Wagner for his Elisabeth.

Hermann is a gift of a role for most German basses and René Pape takes his chances with his accustomed feeling for notes and text. Thomas Hampson delivers Wolfram’s solos with the expected blend of mellifluous tone and verbal acuity, but his manner is a touch set apart and self-conscious, as if he has had to record these at separate sessions. One reservation about this Teldec set: Barenboim’s penchant in meditative passages for very slow speeds. But he paces the Prelude, the huge ensemble at the end of Act 2 and all the Pilgrim’s music with unerring skill.

It’s unlikely that we shall ever hear a totally convincing account of what was, after all, Wagner’s problem child among his mature works, but this new one has about as much going for it as any in recent times. If you want the Dresden version unaltered by later revisions, and there’s something to be said for that choice, the Konwitschny has much to offer in terms of its conductor, sound and much of the solo work.

ClassicsToday.com

For the most part, this is the Dresden version of Tannhäuser, although the sirens’ song after the overture borrows from the Paris edition. (For the complete Paris edition, Sinopoli/Domingo on DG or Solti/Kollo on Decca is recommended). The Staatskapelle Chorus and Staatsoper Orchestra are the real stars here, playing and singing with clarity, shine, and a depth of feeling and understanding that is gloriously underscored by Teldec’s exquisite recording. Almost equally wonderful is the leadership of Daniel Barenboim, who makes absolute sense of this oft-revised, somewhat stylistically hodge-podged score and drama. Indeed the second act here holds together better than I’ve ever heard it before, with a clear build-up of tension in the song contest that reaches an explosion with Tannhäuser’s obsessed outburst and Elisabeth’s defense of him.

Not all the solo singing is as compelling. Best is Rene Pape’s resonant, authoritative Landgraf, making the most of this sometimes windy character; indeed, his is the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard touch this music. Of Peter Seiffert, you might find only good things to say: His attention to the text makes his every utterance interesting, the voice is attractive, and he seems tireless. Further, his tone is bright and ringing–and believe it or not, this presents a problem. There’s rarely a sense of gloom or doom (not to mention Weltschmerz) here as there should be with Tannhäuser; despite some good ranting during the lengthy “Rome Narrative” we never feel that he’s in any sort of psychic pain. Perhaps I’m asking too much, especially since just getting the notes out of this role is enough of a challenge, but that’s how it comes across. He’s not Tannhäuser-lite (I don’t require a Melchior-type of darkness), but even Windgassen, with a similarly non-heroic sound, implied more angst. Oh well.

Jane Eaglen’s Elisabeth is well sung and put forth, and the voice can sound very beautiful, but she’s not nearly as moving as, say, Dernesch (for Solti, in her finest recorded role) or Silja (with Sawallisch). Thomas Hampson’s Wolfram is so gorgeously, sensitively sung (in such impeccable Hoch-Deutsch) that to note that he’s very light for the role seems petty. Gunnar Gudbjornsson’s Walther implies a budding Tannhäuser. Which leaves us with Waltraud Meier’s ship-sinking Venus: Her inappropriate timbre and the ugly upper-third of her voice are criminal beside such proponents of the role as Bumbry and Ludwig, and her attempts at sounding seductive are embarrassing in the face of such vocal pastiness. She cheapens every recording she’s made (save for her first Kundry, which is still miles behind the great Kundrys). And so–on some levels this is a very successful Tannhäuser, but I’d stick with Solti on Decca.

Robert Levine

ClassicalSource.com

Though few would doubt its greatness, Tannhäuser remains the most problematic of Wagner’s works. It seemingly resists cogent interpretation – by common critical consent, there is no definitive recording, no benchmark performance by which others can be judged – and its history, uniquely in Wagner’s output, is riddled with editorial controversy. Famously, there are two versions of the score – the 1845 Dresden original and the Paris revision of 1861 – which effectively constitute two rather different operas, both called Tannhäuser. Wagner was never happy with either and spent most of his career planning a final, definitive revision, which he never actually started, though he authorised an amalgam which tacks the opening of the Paris version onto the Dresden score by means of a linking passage after the Venusberg music. (This is the version that forms the basis of Wolfgang Sawallisch’s 1962 Phillips recording.) At Bayreuth in 1954, however, there was an almighty furore when Wieland Wagner and Joseph Keilberth opted for an edition of their own, mercifully preserved in sound by Melodram, which swivels between Wagner’s two scores with vertiginous, if totally convincing abandon. For this new studio recording from Teldec, made in tandem with a series of performances at the Berlin Staatsoper, Daniel Barenboim has similarly opted for his own conflation, though the result is perhaps less than ideal. Broadly speaking, he takes the Dresden version as his basis, though he incorporates the first scene between Venus and Tannhäuser from the Paris score. Most people would agree that the music here, written post-Tristan and often scorchingly erotic, is infinitely preferable. What Barenboim keeps, however, is the briefer, tamer Dresden version of the Venusberg orgies – the very music that Wagner was anxious to retain in his own combined edition. Keilberth’s solution – playing the original overture, then linking the Paris orgy sequence to the start of its Dresden counterpart – is infinitely preferable here. Despite arguments about the cogency of the Dresden version, the later Venusberg music constitutes one of the greatest passages in Wagner’s output and to omit it strikes me as perverse, doubly so on this occasion given Barenboim’s interpretation of the work as a whole.

He views the opera very much as a study of the thin dividing line between sexual and spiritual experience, and as such anchors it as the antecedent of both Tristan and Parsifal. This forms a marked contrast with both Keilberth’s remorseless swirling between austerity and obscenity and with Solti (conducting the Paris score for Decca), who adopts the nineteenth-century decadent stance on the work, elevating the Venusberg over the courtly chastity – and emotional hypocrisy – of the Wartburg. Barenboim unleashes his orchestral forces in a continual sensuous flood, whether he’s dealing with Venus’s seductive frenzies, Tannhäuser’s deep conflict or the chromatic string postlude to Wolfram’s invocation to the evening star. Since the ’evening star’ itself is the astronomical or astrologic Venus, the ambiguity is telling. There’s no attempt at religiosity – the chorales are all taken at considerable speed – while the grand ceremonials of the Wartburg have a grave pomp that pre-empts Wagner’s later Grail Knights. The song contest itself is astonishingly handled, progressing from Wolfram’s spiritual tenderness to erotic chaos as if Venus’s music, repetitively crawling beneath Tannhäuser’s utterances, were gradually taking possession of the whole assembly.

In line with such a stance, Venus and Elisabeth emerge as being very much the twin polarities of sex and spirit between which the other characters pivot. They are not however, ideally matched. Jane Eaglen’s stainless steel, armour-plated virgin is contrasted with Waltraud Meier’s on-heat seductress. Eaglen, the set’s principal defect, has presumably been cast to emphasise Elisabeth’s toughness – this is a woman who, after all, is prepared to take on single-handedly a gang of armed men baying for blood – but in the process she emerges as stiffly inhumane.

There are major vocal inequalities here, too – an edgy pulse in the sound, occluded, autopilot German and far too many pitch problems. ’Allmächt’ge Jungfrau…’ is excruciatingly out of tune, its awkwardness hampered further by Barenboim’s decision to slow the score at this point and aspire to stasis for the only time in the performance. Meier, though not equalling Christa Ludwig for Solti, is fairly thrilling, the voice smoky and lived in, her handling of the text tinglingly indecent, marginally preferable here than in her two previous recordings of the role – in the Dresden version for Haitink (EMI) and the Paris score for Sinopoli (DG).

The men, meanwhile, are more consistent, and Peter Seiffert’s Tannhäuser must be considered the finest in sound. The mixture of Heldentenor heft with un-Teutonic lyricism is ideal as the taxing vocal lines ebb and flow. As a vocal actor he’s unfailingly impressive, sated yet ecstatic in his scenes with Venus, approaching Elisabeth with tremulous timidity, and forcefully darkening his tone in the final scenes where spiritual obloquy reigns and damnation is imminent. Thomas Hampson is a super-subtle Wolfram, noble in sorrow and profoundly tender in his devotion to Elisabeth, though the sudden passion of his delivery of his second song during the contest reveals an intensity of sexual desire that undercuts the supposed purity of his motivations. As the Landgrave, René Pape sounds a fraction young, though his deep affection for his daughter his profoundly touching. The recording itself is matchlessly engineered and can only be described as exemplary.

As a whole the set ranks among the best of a series of less than ideal performances. Seiffert and Hampson, in particular, demand to be heard, and few would want to be without Barenboim’s conducting or the outstanding playing from the Berlin Staatskapelle, though reservations about the edition and the presence of the very disappointing Eaglen will make it an impossible prospect for some. Of rival versions, meanwhile, Solti remains first choice for the Paris edition, while Konwitschny (EMI) is preferable to Haitink in the Dresden score. Keilberth’s performance, though marred by the barking Tannhäuser of Ramon Vinay and an indifferent Venus in Herta Wilfert, remains one of the most astonishing pieces of Wagner conducting to survive in sound and offers extraordinary insights into the work, not duplicated elsewhere.

Tim Ashley

musicweb-international.com

During the 1840s Wagner, now based at Dresden, became convinced that legend and medieval poetry should be his source material, and the knightly tale of Tannhäuser (1845) reflects his new confidence and artistic assurance. But the Dresden production of this romantic opera was only its first version, for a new one with added ballet music and various other changes was prepared for Paris in 1861.

It tells us much about the production standards of this new Teldec-Barenboim recording that the booklet immediately makes it clear which the performance options have been chosen. A clear and unequivocal statement lays out the terms of reference: ‘The present recording is based on the Dresden version. However, Act I Scene II is based on the Paris version.’ It then cross-references to information in the accompanying essay. All this bodes well, and shows a concern for detail that is matched in the performance.

There are several distinguished recordings of Tannhäuser, to which Barenboim can be added with the utmost confidence. While he does not eclipse the versions conducted by Haitink (EMI), Solti (Decca), Sinopoli (DG), Konwitschny (EMI) or Sawallisch (Philips), his performance is as authoritative as any, and anyone wanting to add this opera to their library can be pleased to have this recording on their shelves.

All praise too to the Teldec engineers, who have risen to the perennial challenge of recording a Wagner opera, by managing an acoustic and perspective that accommodates both grandeur and intimacy. Listen to the marvellous performance of the overture and this already becomes absolutely clear.

Wagner wanted, as he put it, ‘to turn away from operatic diffuseness’ in this work, by which he meant that he wanted to avoid a sequence of set pieces that had the effect of stopping and starting. Therefore one of the challenges to the conductor is to ensure dramatic variety and tension while maintaining the flow of the musical design. This Barenboim achieves with great concentration, though he does tend to become very slow and introspective at times. An example, and perhaps the least convincing aspect of the whole performance, is Wolfram’s Evening Star scene, in which one cannot help feeling that only the vocal excellence of Thomas Hampson keeps the experience free from dullness.

The cast matches the standards required, though Jane Eaglen’s enthusiasm sometimes comes close to derailment and loss of tone. She is at her best in the quieter, more thoughtful music, in which she achieves the necessary radiance. Waltraud Meier joins a distinguished roll-call of singers to have successfully taken the part of Venus on record: Christa Ludwig (with Solti) is perhaps the best of them all.

The admirable René Pape takes the role of Hermann, which Wagner created with consummate skill; rarely did even he compose more gratefully for the bass voice. The various smaller roles are all skilfully taken.

What then, of Tannhäuser himself? Peter Seiffert has the advantage of being a native German speaker, and in fine voice he delivers the text with assurance. This role is one of the great challenges to a singer, since he has not only to sing the notes and inflect the meaning of the text, he has to go further and convey the strange tensions he feels behind the attractions of the two opposites of sacred and profane love. Perhaps Seiffert does not match the warm tone of Domingo (DG) in the role, but his delivery of text is more confident, and that counts for a great deal.

Barenboim, the Berlin orchestra and the excellent State Opera Chorus emerge with huge credit from their encounter with this challenging score. The pacing of the drama is sure and purposeful, so too the handing of the larger ensemble scenes, the most striking of which closes Act II.

However, if you want to have the complete Venusberg Music, following the Overture, think carefully about which recording you buy. It is only Solti (Decca) who gives us the full Paris revision of the score, and in typically opulent sound. It is worth hearing this because the Venusberg Music is quite extraordinary, and, to put it unequivocally, is the most extreme music Wagner ever composed. It is not a better performance of Tannhäuser that includes the full Paris revisions, it is simply a different one, but most of the recordings feature either the original Dresden score or – as here – a particular mixture of the two versions.

So Tannhäuser is a problematic work, though it undeniably remains a great opera. With so much about it that is excellent, in terms of both performance and presentation, this new Barenboim set can be recommended with confidence.

Terry Barfoot

filomusica.com

No cabe duda que uno de los directores de orquesta de la actualidad a los que más se asocia con la obra de Wagner, es el argentino-israelí Daniel Barenboim. Su curriculum en ese sentido es ciertamente impresionante: ha dirigido durante 18 años en el Festival de Bayreuth, desde 1981 hasta su despedida en 1999; está en camino de grabar las 10 obras escénicas importantes de Wagner, una proeza que sólo consiguió Solti antes que él y, por si fuera poco, lo habrá logrado en un lapso reducidísimo de tiempo (desde 1989 que inició la serie con el Parsifal para Teldec, hasta que próximamente aparezca la última que le falta, El Holandés Errante). Por si fuera poco, este año ha saltado a los titulares de noticias con su “maratón” en la Ópera de Berlín, al dirigir las 10 óperas y dramas musicales de Wagner en dos semanas, repitiendo la proeza en las dos siguientes, y el pasado año también fue noticia por interpretar a Wagner en Israel, con el consiguiente escándalo por parte de aquellos judíos que aún asocian esta música con el III Reich.

Con todo ello, y con la reivindicación que siempre ha hecho Barenboim de la tradición alemana de directores como Furtwängler (con quien aparece, dándose la mano, en una foto de 1954, a los 12 años) podría suponerse que hiciera un Wagner de referencia, o poco menos. La verdad es que en ese sentido hay mucha tela que cortar, y que las buenas intenciones no necesariamente dan óptimos resultados.

Una prueba es este Tannhäuser que ahora nos presenta Teldec, grabado en Berlín en mayo y junio de 2001 por Barenboim al frente de los conjuntos de la Ópera “Unter den Linden”, de la que es titular, y cuya toma de sonido es, lógicamente, espléndida.

La dirección de Barenboim, como tantas veces le ocurre, peca de excesivamente prudente, como si tuviera “miedo a volar”. Lo mejor son los momentos intimistas, de recogimiento, donde la dirección sí despliega una cierta vena poética, como el dúo de Tannhäuser y Venus del Acto I, o el desolado comienzo del Acto III. Por contra, otros momentos parecen rutinarios, como el final del Acto I, y las partes “exultantes” de la obra despiertan bien poco entusiasmo en el oyente; en particular, una de las fanfarrias más conocidas de Wagner, la de la “Entrada de los invitados” suena aquí casi minimalista.

En el reparto encontramos también cosas buenas y otras menos buenas. Entre las buenas, Waltraud Meier (que ya había grabado el papel con Haitink) es la sensacional Venus que se podría esperar de ella. René Pape tiene una voz bella y un buen estilo wagneriano, aunque se le podría reprochar el ser demasiado joven para el papel del Landgrave. Y la sorpresa de esta grabación, un Peter Seiffert bien conocido por sus incursiones en papeles wagnerianos más líricos, pero que compone un Tannhäuser más que digno para los tiempos que corren, alcanza su mayor altura en su dúo con Venus (se comprenderá por ello que esa escena sea la más lograda de toda la grabación), está algo más insulso en el Torneo de canto y en la “Narración de Roma”, pero aun así posee un estilo wagneriano al que ni se acercan otros cantantes, como Domingo. Puede señalarse el lujo de contar con Dorothea Röschmann como el Pastor.

Entre las cosas no tan buenas del reparto, hay que citar a Jane Eaglen como Elisabeth, una voz “dura”, inexpresiva, y con un temblor desagradable (escúchese su “Allmächt’ge Jungfrau”) y a Thomas Hampson como Wolfram, el mismo error que supuso Plácido Domingo en la grabación de Sinopoli: buscar a un divo que cante bien, y seguramente ayude a aumentar las ventas del disco, aunque carezca de toda idea sobre cómo se canta Wagner, lo que se le oye igual puede ser Wagner que Verdi, o que vaya Vd. a saber. El resto de los cantores no ayudan a elevar la nota. La labor de los conjuntos es buena, aunque el coro (preparado por el director del coro de Bayreuth, Eberhard Friedrich) no sea comparable al del propio Bayreuth o al Philharmonia de Londres que grabara esta ópera con Sinopoli.

En conjunto, esta versión no puede medirse con las clásicas dirigidas por Solti y Sawallisch, que siguen siendo los Tannhäuser de referencia al menos entre los “no piratas”, pero podría aspirar a competir con la de Sinopoli por el puesto de mejor versión grabada en digital. La presente es superior en dirección (al menos la de Barenboim merece tal nombre), protagonista y Venus, aunque la de Sinopoli tenga mucho mejores Elisabeth (Cheryl Studer) y Wolfram (Andreas Schmidt), el resto de cantores del torneo sean también superiores y el extraordinario Salminen consiga un Landgrave aún mejor que el del muy bueno Pape. En resumen, una grabación que seguramente atraerá más a los operófilos interesados en grabaciones actuales que a los wagnerianos más exigentes.

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(3.5/5)
Media Type/Label
Teldec, Warner
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