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Captures the Spirit of Bayreuth
on 31 January 2009
There are many videos of Bayreuth performances, but this was the first. For that reason alone, it's worth watching; fortunately it isn't the only reason.
Unlike later recordings, this one includes curtain calls. I think this was an excellent decision, since it evokes the thrill of being part of a Bayreuth audience. Only in Bayreuth will an audience remain absolutely silent until the last note has faded, and then erupt in a paroxism of emotion - good or bad. Listen carefully, and you'll hear the point where the audience begin to stamp their feet, causing the wooden structure of the Festspielhaus to resonate with a sound like thunder. They obviously liked this performance.
And why not, indeed; it's excellent.
Gwyneth Johns performs both Venus and Elizabeth, as Birgit Nilsson did, back in the sixties. There were some difficulties - her lower register wasn't quite up to the essentially mezzo part of Venus, and her diminutive stature meant that she had to stand on a box throughout act I (somewhat limiting her range of movement). That's her on the cover of the DVD - you can see the corner of the box if you look closely. However, her acting ability, stage presence and total commitment to her roles more than compensated for these minor, er, shortcomings.
Spas Wenkoff's Tannhauser was full of manic glee (although this might have been a combination of close-ups and operatic acting). Wonderful strong voice, with none of the whiny edge that I've heard in other Tannhausers.
The unbelievably young Bernd Weikl was a splendid Wolfram - a role which he was to play many times. You might like to contrast his performance here with the one in the 1994 Munich performance, with Waltraud Myer as Venus.
The orchestra, chorus and other performers all lived up the normal Bayreuth standards of perfection. Colin Davis maintained a lively and expressive tempo.
This is the full Paris version, complete with a somewhat prim Bacchanale, filmed in 1978, when this originally controversial production had been accepted by the Bayreuth audience.
Technical issues? A few. After all, the film was made thirty years ago. The sound is almost perfect, but there are a couple of occasions where background noise intrudes. Thankfully they're brief. The image quality is somewhat variable, particularly in the darker passages. Again, this isn't obtrusive - I'm just being picky.