Of the three Tannhausers I've seen so far, this one is my favourite
Tannhauser is a wonderful opera, I slightly prefer Tristan and Meistersinger, but it has Wagner's best Overture(though Der Fliegende Hollander and Meistersinger are also great) and never fails to touch me. This 1978 Bayreuth performance is wonderful, and my favourite of the three Tannhausers I've seen so far, the others being the 1982 and 1994 productions, the former I did thoroughly enjoy, the latter despite three fine performances I didn't care for.
Visually, this Tannhauser is not a traditional production like the 1982 production. But it actually looks good and not used in a banal way like 1994, and it also makes sense. The costumes are good. The sound quality is mostly excellent, even with the inevitable audience noise, and the picture quality is decent, you can see everybody's faces, if in need of more clarity. The camera work is always focused.
Musically it is superb. Wagner's music is magnificent, powerful, haunting and beautiful. The orchestral playing do it justice, never fatigued with thrilling playing in the louder moments and sensitive playing in the softer ones. Colin Davies' conducting is correct, efficient and always respectful to the score, on par with Levine and vastly superior to Mehta. The chorus are well balanced, with a stirring Pilgrim's Chorus. The principal singing is wonderful.
Spas Wenkel does a great job as Tannhauser, one of the most demanding Wagner tenor roles alongside Tristan and Siegfried. His singing is strong and unlike Cassily doesn't resort to whining and blustering as well as nasal vocal production. He is a good actor, expressive while showing some intensity, not stiff or ill-at ease like Kollo(and I actually like Kollo).
Gwyneth Jones I've always loved for her intelligence, her powerful voice and riveting stage presence. Here she takes on two roles, Elisabeth and Venus. I think she is better as Elisabeth, where she is very reverent and touching. Her Venus is mostly impressive, she is sexy and sings with total commitment, if lacking the thrilling power of Meier and Troyanos in the lower register.
Bernd Weikl is a splendid Wolfram, a role he knows very well. He is young, charismatic, and his voice is fresh and sonorous. Ode to the Evening Star has always been a highlight of Tannhauser and Weikl sings it beautifully. Also if you are a fan of Hans Sotin(I can't get enough of his Gurnemanz), you will love his Landgrave, it is a powerful presence. Franz Mazura is an impressive Biterolf.
Overall, a wonderful production and highly recommended. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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