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on 13 November 2009
There are three major faults with this production: The Robotic ballet, the Elisabeth part sung by Nylund, and the synthetic sound quality.

We agree that the set, staging, the costumes, the lighting, the staircase etc are quite pleasing tot he eye.
But this alone does not make an opera 'stand'.
We take issue with the notion that some expressed that the singing throughout is excellent, in particularly I take the notion here that Camilla Nylund is a well sung Elisabeth.
It is NOT.
Camilla Nylund is grossly misplaced here.
Although a young looking face the singer has, her voice sounds 'old', wasted, faded, and `bleached-off' - it lacks youth-tone as the roll of Elisabeth asks for.
Nylund voice in this setting is terrible wobbly and the top notes are white flat...Moreover:
We were sitting here five persons to watch and to listen: most of her registers are wobbly; her technique is to take all of the notes from under the pitch (something like the Russian old singing school). This sort of vocal behavior does not add to a Wagnerian voice's 'volume' at all. One has to listen to other signers that capture this roll to understand how Nylund's obsolete technique hinders her from getting it right. Especially painful is to listen to her opening aria "Dich, teure Halle". Listening to it one would admit that a great singer this Nylund is not.
This mediocre singing is very disturbing; one would wish she would simply go away.

Now to the 'held' tenor roll sung by Robert Gambill:
We all likeed him Very Much, a capable Wagnerian Held-tenor with great acting abilities, facial expression, and a figure (body-form) that is great for the stage, as well as his superb vocal expression. True, he gets tired after act two and the voice flexibility drops but when he comes back for the final act (after being refreshed in the pause-time) his voice is vigorous, focused and with great flexibility. (We also enjoyed his singing, his stage presence and acting as Sigmund in Die Walkure conducted by Rattle too)...

As for the rest of the singers they earned here top notch, especially Venus with Waltraud Meier:
Now this is a voice to recon with...A rare breed of a voice that easily crosses over between the Mezzo-soprano range and the soprano range (one should hear - and see her - on the Metropolitan Levine 25 anniversary where she singes the most difficult part of the Isolde narration, to appreciate what this singer's voice is all about.
We are, however, aware that she is nearing the end of her singing career as very occasionally that voice too begins to show singes of bleach-ness at the middle register and the highest notes are a bit truncated. Still - this is a minor observation (her acting is great, though...)
And mind you the reader: we are a group of five persons that spent years as singer's trainers, singers, musician and a previous prima-ballerina...This brings us to the first act what was supposed to be a ballet:
No one here could understand the logic or the artistic drive behind the chorography of the robot-like figures, and those figures encapsulated in a cocoon-form. It was quite boring and it serves no purpose, so why?
The interview with the chorographer does very little to broaden our understanding - it might well be just a case of his self-trip semi-consciousness that amounts to nothing with that `ballet' chorography.
In general: The interviews with the other participants of this production do not add much to the appreciation of the efforts they put into it. They add nothing to the `story'.
Well cleverly was the reaction of Waltraud Meier: She simply ignored the crew - went her way and just commented: I have been singing this roll some twenty years ago. (Compliments Mrs. Meier - when the questions are stupid, do not respond).

The cinematography is good and the stairs buid on the stage and the costumes are stupendous.

If it was not for Nylund (Elisabeth's roll), the ballet, and for the synthetic sound - the voting points given would have been quite higher.
As it is, someday another production with a higher singing value, better sound and more traditional-logically put ballet will come along.
As things are right now - this is a two star mark.
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on 9 February 2013
A very mixed performaance. The production, particularly in the Venusberg scene was poorly produced and costumed and much of the production was very dark. While most of the singing made it listenable, particularly a beutiful performance by the Elizabeth supported by good minor casting, an excellent chorus and orchestra heolped by sympathetic conducting. However, Tannhauser himself, while he had an extremely powerful voice had an excessive wobble at all levels and was quite unable to produce a beautiful tone at the more lyrical passages. This was partiocularly evident in quiet passages and highlighted at a crucial point in the final act where, following loud and dramatic moments as he described his trip to Rome and talk of returning to the Venusberg he learns of Elizabeth's approach and speaks her name. At that point I wanted to feel emotion of the moment and his harsh tones ruined that. I will need to go back to my CD recorsing of this opera and wait until it receives a modern production on DVD worrthy of attention.
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on 21 August 2011
A cast nearly as ideal as can imagined, fine orchestra and superb chorus make this Baden-Baden Festspiel performance from 2008 the best on the market, so far as I know. As a scandinavian I especially notice Camilla Nylund as Elisabeth and Stephen Milling as the Landgraf for showing all their abilitys among Wagner stars as Waltraud Meier, Robert Gambill and Roman Trekel. Tannhaüser became the international breakthrough of Wagner, and not ony the music but also the story, have none of the disturbing og intriguing elements, one finds in his later works. It seems to me a tale of redemption for an outcast living in a medieval society (and too a considerable degree in 19th century "victorian" society). In the central scene, the songcontest (where the director as an rather distracting joke places a microphone on the scene - anyway Lehnhaus, the director must be credited for not modernising the play) Tannhaüser grows seek and tired of the competitors praising of love as an only spiritual phenonomen, and sings his praise of erotic pleasure. The horrofied responce is rather witty from the hand of Wagner, but dead serious for the fate of Tannhaüser.
In this context it seems somewhat strange, the way the Venusberg scene at the start of the opera is presented. The ballet is a performance of doll-like figures wraped in plastic. For me this place of sexual delights seemed transformed to a cave, with Frau Venus as the spider in center of her victims. So no wonder Tannhaüser wants to escape! With this minor personal reservation the production is to be holeheartedly recomented.
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on 11 November 2009
Wagner's frankly silly libretto contains elements of Christian and Greek mythology. Tannhauser jilts Venus for the Virgin Mary. He participates in a song contest where he embarrasses everyone, including his beloved Elizabeth, by praising the pleasures the flesh. He goes on a pilgrimage to Rome where the Pope says his sins with Venus are unforgiveable. He decides, in that case, he might as well go back to Venus. At the last moment, the heartbroken Elizabeth dies and intercedes for him in heaven. His sins are forgiven.

The last time I saw Tannhauser I found Wagner's mystical mumbo-jumbo quite impenetrable. In this impeccable production from Baden-Baden the details of the plot are quite clear, perhaps too clear. This is a visually spectacular production dominated by a huge spiral staircase. Opera directors like spiral staircases, it gives the singers something to do during long arias. I loved the black and silver costumes of the chorus and the smart red costumes of the minstrels. For the song contest they change into gold lame Elvis Presley outfits.

Most magnificent is Waltraut Meier as Venus in a billowing dress that a troupe of boy scouts could hold a jamboree in. Sadly, the Venusberg scene is the least successful because her Bacchae are not very bacchanalian, looking like faceless embryos.

Silliness aside, Wagner's music is thrilling Robert Gambill copes well with the amazing demands of the title role. Camilla Nylund is a touching Elizabeth. Stephen Milling is a dignified Hermann and Waltraut Meyer is Venus personified, physically and vocally.
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Wagner: Tannhauser (Live Recording From The Festspielhaus Baden-Baden 2008) [Blu-ray]

Stage director Nikolaus Lehnhoff uses the Paris version with the Venusberg Ballet for this production but has restored Walter's contribution to the song competition in Act 11..

The stage is dominated for the entire opera by a gigantic spiral staircase, slightly modified as the opera proceeds, but looks sensational in Act 11 when it is transformed by 20,000 (yes 20,000) small lights spread over the entire set, magic. Costumes are elaborate and colourful, Tannhauser black, Elisabeth white, and the other male characters in bright red (Act 11) and gold tail coats in Act 111.

Unfortunately the ballet which can be used to illustrate the erotic attraction between Tannhauser and Venus has absolutely no impact because inexplicably the dancers are enclosed in semi transparent sacks rendering them "undefined creatures, worms and larvae which sacrifice a black bull": isn't Venusberg meant to be a haven of eroticism?

As one would expect Act 1 with Waltraud Meier and Robert Gambil is well sung but the staging is so static and understated one wonders why Tannhauser would ever want to return to Venusberg.

Fortunately the staging for Acts 11 and 111 are up to Lehnhoff's usual high standard.

The singing throughout is excellent, particularly two singers new to me, Camilla Nylund is a lovely well sung Elisabeth but her acting is lacking a little in spontaneity. The highlight for me was Stephen Milling as Hermann, his sensitive nuanced singing and fine voice fully justified his rising reputation, would love to hear him in a major role.

The Deutsches Symphonie under Philippe Jordan is joy.

Fine 1080i Blue ray video and the audio from the relatively new and enormous 2,500 seat Festpielhaus Baden Baden has an open air and completely natural quality.

However the ineffective staging of the first act renders it difficult to recommend this fine performance as a first choice.
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on 29 September 2015
Oh dear, Oh dear, I will start off with the opening ballet in Venusberg, It is an open stage with a circular featureless staircase, but then every other venue is also a circular featureless staircase, all right I will admit the lighting changes a bit. The dancers are in net bags and writhe around the floor like demented caterpillars, and are as featureless as the staircase. Eventually they get up and are angular and jerky and hardly convey the delights of venusberg. This strange state of affairs completely took my mind off the music which it should enhance.
When Waltraud Meier appears as Venus she is dressed like a tea cosy with a bad hair day. She does however shed some of these garments to appear more presentable before Tannhauser takes his leave
Robert Gambill is the aforesaid Tannhauser, his voice is often raucous, on sustained notes it has an annoying waver. As a portrayal of the character I find him average and unconvincing.
Elizabeth is sung by Camilla Nyland, she is in far better voice, and somewhat better dressed than most other cast members.
The other male leads, Roman Trekel and Stephen Milling are in pretty good voice, and help the three star rating.
Costumes of the other lead singers are ridiculous some in strangely designed gold material others in black. Later on the male chorus seem to be dressed as white nuns.
I must confess that I have watched this on sky arts which I use as a tester to see what I would like in my opera library. This is certainly not on my list. The staging and poor Tannhauser make sure of that
I recommend Bayreuther Festpiele with Spas Wenkoff and Gwyneth Jones.
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