Philippe Jordan
Philharmonia Chor Wien
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
July 2008
Fespielhaus Baden-Baden
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
HermannStephen Milling
TannhäuserRobert Gambill
Wolfram von EschenbachRoman Trekel
Walther von der VogelweideMarcel Reijans
BiterolfTom Fox
Heinrich der SchreiberFlorian Hoffmann
Reinmar von ZweterAndreas Hörl
ElisabethCamilla Nylund
VenusWaltraud Meier
Ein junger HirtKatherina Müller
Stage directorNikolaus Lehnhoff
Set designerRaimund Bauer
TV directorPatrick Buttmann
Opera Today

Good directors don’t always create good productions.

Nikolaus Lehnhoff proved with his staging of Parsifal, preserved on DVD, that he can stay true to the core vision of a Wagner masterwork and yet bring new insights and a stark yet imaginative vision to the work. This Tannhaüser, filmed in 2008 in Baden-Baden, comes across as an over-designed, under-realized concept. Although the bonus feature of an hour-long documentary has a lot of talk – oh boy, does it ever – none of it really serves to make the production’s intents any clearer. The sets, the costumes, the lighting, are all spectacular. The viewer can admire all that effort and still feel unsatisfied, because the tone never becomes coherent. Does Lehnhoff see the opera as essentially silly? That nagging thought is the chief one his staging produced in your reviewer.

A huge spiral staircase/walkway dominates the set, the curve of which has a seductive, feminine shape. Waltraud Meier as Venus appears in the shadow of the curve, at first immobile in a huge hoop-skirt ballgown, and then stepping away from it in a more shapely black dress. The ballet almost never really works to suggest the erotic appeal of Venusberg, but Lehnhoff gets off to a very bad start here. In the choreography of Amir Hosseinpour and Jonathan Lunn, dancers in clunky, head-to-toe white leotards mime the wriggling movements of worms or maggots. It’s silly when not repellent. And the worms turn up again at the end, of course, to spoil one of the more successful scenes of the production.

With a full head of shaggy hair and looking a little like a 1980s’ Bono of the rock band U2, Robert Gambill enters. In a role known as a tenor-killer, Gambill offers a lot. He doesn’t seem to tire, and his enunciation of the text struck this non-German speaker as sharp. The core of Gambill’s voice is a husky, masculine sound, with an effective if strained top. He doesn’t really have either the vocal or personal charisma for a memorable assumption of the horny hero, but Gambill is about as good as we’ve got at this time.

Only a few months before this summer 2008 production, Gambill had been in the same opera with Camila Nylund as Elisabeth in San Diego, where your reviewer caught their performances. Nylund is a gorgeous woman, visually perfect as Elisabeth (but even more stunning when seen in street clothes in the aforementioned documentary). She can sing her role, as Gambill can sing his. It’s just the lack of any special color or imagination to her phrasing that keeps her assumption from affecting the audience as it should. At least she doesn’t have to endure the wig catastrophe that Meier does as Venus, with a weird fan-shaped hedge of hair across the top of her skull. Lehnhoff relies on Meier’s considerable dramatic reserves to put her characterization across, but he gives her very little to do. Even when outside the prison of that satin gown, Meier seems locked away.

In Wartburg things get very goofy. Most of the men wear gold lamé suits, while the chorus enters in black suits and helmets with short antlers, or are they insect antennae? When the song contest begins, the contestants stride onto a platform with a standing microphone, strutting and posturing like rock stars. Tom Fox as Biterolf really gets into it. But when Gambill’s Tannhaüser rushes up, shoves Fox off the stage and sings in praise of Venusberg, Lehnhoff’s interpretation makes him look like a spoiled, bratty jock. There’s no interest in his redemption from that point. If we still care about Nylund’s Elisabeth, that is due to the commendable efforts of Roman Trekel as Wolfram and Stephen Milling as Hermann, two first-class singers who manage to preserve their dignity amidst the silliness.

One of several hundred young conductors making their names known today, Philippe Jordan leads the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in a technically precise but soulless reading. He has more interesting things to say about the music in the documentary than can be heard in the actual performance.

The booklet does feature a very fine essay by Reiner E. Moritz, who covers the opera’s creation cogently and also finds ways of describing this production that make it sound better than it turns out to be. But where in the booklet essay is the credit for the wig stylist? The documentary interviews reveal that both Gambill and Trekel got the benefit of that artist’s best work. Meier, unfortunately, did not.

Finally, if a production goes for the non-traditional approach as this one does, then the subtitles shouldn’t be as fussy and outdated as those employed here. A lot of creative energy went into this production. In the end, it comes across as all design, no depth.

Chris Mullins

Mostly Opera

Baden-Baden, a bit further south-east from Bayreuth was one of the locations, Richard Wagner initially considered for his Festival House, and the Wagner performances here has recently tended to outshine those of the proper Bayreuth Festival. The year of 2008 was no exception, at least regarding the ability to attract top singers.

Audiences here have gotten used to Nikolaus Lehnhoff, having already staged Lohengrin and Parsifal here in previous years. And in comparison, he seems to have run out of ideas for this Tannhäuser.

A spiral staircase appears throughout the semi-abstract sets where the period-styled actors appears. Aesthetic as always with Lehnhoff, but is there a deeper meaning. Knowing Lehnhoffs work, the answer most probably is yes, however I didn´t manage to find out what it was.

While Robert Gambill looks reasonable, they days where he could actually sing Tannhäuser are long gone.

Camilla Nylund´s Elisabeth verges on the too mature and though she looks the part I wonder if she really moved the audience. Though Venus, with the sumptuous singing really is not among the best parts for Waltraud Meier from a vocal part of view, no-one looks and acts the part better as she does, thus it is no surprise that this is the second Tannhäuser DVD with her participation.

Stephen Milling in a Landgraf his prime and however golden Roman Trekel is dressed up cannot hide the fact that his voice does not have the innigkeit and beauty of a really good Wolfran.

Philippe Jordan was swift and effective, though perhaps not transporting.

Apart from Rokoko-Meier, a relatively static affair. Admittedly, Tannhäuser is not an easy work to pull off and the ideal DVD is not yet on the market.

However, for those inclined to watch traditional productions, the Metropolitan Opera Tannhäuser is probably the best of Otto Schenk´s Wagner stagings.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Robert Gambill: 2
Waltraud Meier: 4-5
Camilla Nylund: 3-4
Roman Trekel: 2
< Stephen Milling: 5

Lehnhoffs staging: 3
Philippe Jordan: 4

Overall impression: 4


Perusing the list of cast members, conductor and stage director, the reader can see that this is a major production – and visually and aurally it comes across that way. In the second scene Robert Gambill as Tannhäuser and Waltraud Meier as Venus are thrilling. Meier’s Zieh hin, Wahnbetörter is delivered with passion and total conviction. Her voice is beautiful and powerful in the upper ranges, though she occasionally has a vaguely down-in-the-well thickness on certain low notes. But that last shortcoming is miniscule, and I almost feel guilty for mentioning it, because her performance overall is so compelling.

Gambill is consistently excellent throughout – his energy and commitment never flag. Camilla Nylund as Elizabeth is splendid as well, from her first appearance at the beginning of Act II (Dich, teure Halle, grüß’ ich wieder). Her high notes are especially thrilling, but she also sings well throughout her range. Other singers in the cast are nearly as good – Roman Trekel as Wolfram, Stephen Milling as the Landgraf, Tom Fox as Biterolf and Katherina Müller as Ein junger Hirt, to name some.

Young Philippe Jordan conducts with a fine sense for drama, with well chosen tempos and fine phrasing. The chorus, so essential in this opera, sings brilliantly throughout and the orchestra plays with spirit and accuracy.

But, you ask, what about the sets and costuming? Nikolaus Lehnhoff will, I suppose, always generate a level of controversy with his often mysterious-looking, rather barren sets and “modern” treatments. Here, there is a circular stairway in the center of the stage throughout all three acts. I guess, considering the subject matter of this opera – the meaning of life, good, evil, etc. – one could interpret it as a pathway to choice, to fate. Whatever. I think the production works – it’s colorful (try the opening of the Fourth Scene in Act II, The Entrance of the Guests), and it’s thought-provoking. True, some of the costuming in the opera looks a little ridiculous (the gold outfits of the six singers in Act II) and the use of a microphone when the Landgraf addresses the guests in Act II is a bit out of place (intentionally anachronistic?). Still, on the whole, this is a fine Tannhäuser: it would be hard to beat for its singing and orchestral playing, and if you find the production to your liking, it might well rank among the very best Tannhäusers ever issued. Recommended.

Robert Cummings


Of all Wagner’s major operas, Tannhäuser is probably most in need of imaginative rethinking to prevent its themes of sin and redemption seeming dated – just what Götz Friedrich provided at Bayreuth on the finest DVD performance (on DG), with Colin Davis conducting. This latest, also using the revised Paris version, boasts a pretty good cast for today – notably Waltraud Meier’s still seductive Venus, despite uneasy lower notes, and Camilla Nylund’s touching Elizabeth, attractive and clear-voiced, marred only by some excessive vibrato. Roman Trekel, as in EMI’s Zurich DVD, is a strong though rather lean-toned Wolfram, and huge Danish bass Stephen Milling is a commanding if not ideally resonant Landgrave. In the gruelling title role Robert Gambill, a decent Tristan and Siegmund, depicts Tannhäuser’s inner conflicts strongly but frequently overstretches his dark tones; he tackles the Act III narration with some credit, and a dramatic force that is sadly lacking from Philippe Jordan’s airy conducting. Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s staging doesn’t make up for it. Whether depicting hillside, Hall of Song or Venusberg, the glossy spiral-staired unit set remains obstinately unatmospheric. Venus, dressed in crinoline and red fright wig, presides over gauzy-suited sexless dummies or mummies, coyly miming a bull sacrifice. No wonder Tannhäuser wanted out! Elizabeth and later Venus sport natty evening gowns, the knights swap armour for gold lamé and sing through microphones, the guests wear robes with peculiar antler headgear. But all the production team’s verbiage in the interesting backstage documentary can’t make this seem more than window-dressing on an all too straightforward production.

Michael Scott Rohan

Online Musik Magazin

Sängerkrieg im Goldglitzer-Frack

Es sollte bewusst eine Alternative werden: Exakt zeitgleich mit Bayreuth hob sich der Vorhang auch in Baden-Baden zur großen sommerlichen Wagneroper.

Zum dritten Mal baute sich das Festspielhaus Baden-Baden damit zum Bayreuth-Antipoden auf – nach “Parsifal” (Sommer 2004), “Lohengrin” (Pfingsten 2006) in diesem Jahr nun “Tannhäuser”. Schon vor vier Jahren sprach man vom “Gegen-Bayreuth” an der Oos – und dies nicht allein der äußeren Umstände wegen, sondern vor allem wegen der künstlerischen Qualität der Aufführungen. Die waren nämlich unumstritten, anders als in Bayreuth. Dort oft rätselhaftes “Regietheater” (Schlingensief!), hier eine handwerklich tadellose, hoch ästhetische Szenerie (Lehnhoff) – dort eine Sängerbesetzung, die viele Wünsche offen lässt, hier ein Ensemble, das im Wagnergesang bestens zuhause ist. Die jüngste Tannhäuser-Produktion bestätigte diesen Trend. Vielleicht entwickelt sich Baden-Baden damit zum zweiten Wallfahrtsziel für Wagnerianer. Intendant Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser bilanzierte für dieses Jahr schon recht zufrieden: “Es steht eins zu eins zwischen Bayreuth und Baden-Baden”. Aber der umtriebige Musikmanager greift schon nach Höherem: ab 2011 bis 2013 soll es den ganzen Ring geben, Thielemann wird dirigieren, der Regisseur steht noch nicht fest, die Sängerriege dürfte erlesen sein, jedenfalls wenn man die Erwartungen an der Besetzung des diesjährigen “Tannhäuser” misst.

Denn diese Besetzung war wirklich erstklassig: Robert Gambill war als Tannhäuser schier unübertrefflich, ein Heldentenor mit starken lyrischen Qualitäten, der auch durchhielt, wenn das Orchester aus dem Vollen schöpfte. Als Elisabeth brillierte Camilla Nylund mit makellosen Höhen und explizit schönem Klang. Waltraud Meier war eine glutvolle Venus. Wie sie ihre Stimmfarbe vom Schmeicheln zum Fluch wandelte, war faszinierend anzuhören. Dass sie inzwischen dem Grünen Hügel abhold ist, machte ihren Baden-Badener Auftritt umso mehr zur Attraktion. Roman Trekel gab einen Wolfram von elegantem (Stimm-)Format – ein weich strömender Bariton, dessen Abendstern-Gesang einem das eigene Herz rührte. Kraftvoll Stephen Milling als Landgraf, auch väterlich mild, wunderbar sonor und würdevoll, barsch und beißend Tom Fox in der Rolle des Biterolf. Auch die übrigen Minnesänger waren stimmlich gut beieinander.

Die Szene wurde dominiert von edlen Kostümen, die im zeitlosen Design viel Phantasie erlaubten. Zum Wettstreit traten die Sänger in Gold gewandet an – ein bisschen Showeffekt, ein bisschen Edelboutique. Allein Tannhäuser war finsteres, anarchisches Schwarz vorbehalten. Mit unbeherrschten Gesten mischte er die noble, aber sterile Veranstaltung auf, wild das Mikro an sich reißend, das Lehnhoff sich als einziges “modernes” Accessoire erlaubt hatte. Hier wurde etwas von Tannhäusers Außenseitertum deutlich, ansonsten aber verblieb die Inszenierung auf der Ebene eines überaus ästhetischen Szenen-Arrangements. Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung, einen Blick auf den gesellschaftlichen Konflikt, der diese Oper grundiert, eine Befragung der Gründe für Tannhäusers allzu schnellen Canossagang, bzw. seine Pilgerfahrt nach Rom, eine Erhellung des Wagnerschen fixen Erlösungswahns leistete die Regie nicht und wollte es wohl auch nicht. Auch an subtiler Personenregie wurde gespart, der Chor schritt vorwiegend gemessen dahin.

Sehen konnte man freilich eine schöne Bühnenwelt in einem architektonisch raffinierten Einheitsdekor, in welchem die geschwungene Treppe reiche Möglichkeiten für effektvolle Auf- und Abtritte bot. Zu Beginn drehte sich um die im üppigen barocken Kleid wie eine Statue harrende Venus fortwährend eine kleinere Wendeltreppe. An verpuppte Insektenlarven erinnerten die Sirenen, die sie etwas zappelig umtanzten. Die schwüle Erotik war in dieser Szene vor allem in den Sublimationszustand des schönen Gesangs gezwungen. Auch als Venus ihr ausladendes Obergewand ablegte und verheißungsvoll auf den Boden bettete, blieb die Leidenschaft begrenzt. Als Elisabeth im 2. Akt die teure Halle betrat, erschien sie zuerst auf der höheren Ebene des Bühnenbilds, was sowohl akustisch von großem Vorteil, als auch szenisch von herrschaftlichem Gepränge war. Überraschend stieg der vergeistigte Tannhäuser am Schluss auf eben dieser Treppe seiner verblichenen Retterin in die Ewigkeit nach, während selbiger in Gestalt eines Doubles tot in Wolframs Arme sank. Etwas geschmäcklerisch wirkte das Einheitskostüm der Choristen, zumal deren Helmgeweih einige Rätsel aufgab. Eine geschickte Lichtregie tauchte die Szenerie stets in angenehme Farben.

Am Pult des Deutschen Symphonieorchesters sorgte Philippe Jordan für exzellent dramatischen Wagnerklang: romantisch und schwärmerisch, erhaben pathetisch und düster bedrohlich (markante Bläser in der Rom-Erzählung!) – ganz wie es die Situation erforderte. Ein großes Verdienst war, dass nie die Sänger zugedeckt wurden, so dass der Text gut verständlich blieb. Gespielt wurde die Wiener Fassung (,die auf der Pariser fußt) mit einem extra Bläserensemble auf der Hinterbühne, das viel Eindruck machte. Überhaupt gelang Jordan ein sehr plastischer Orchesterklang, der auch in den Einzelstimmen immer wieder schönste Klangeindrücke hervorbrachte. Mit großem Engagement folgten die Instrumentalisten seinem zupackenden, temperamentvollen Dirigat. Philippe Jordan gab seine Visitenkarte als künftiger Musikdirektor der Bastille-Oper höchst glaubwürdig ab.


Ein Augen- und Ohrenschmaus und keine regietheatralische Irritation: höchst kulinarische Oper.

Christoph Wurzel – Besuchte Vorstellung: 27. Juli 2008

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1920×1080, 14.4 Mbit/s, 20.7 GByte, 7.1 ch (MPEG-4)
Possible dates: 25, 27 and 29 July 2008