Tannhäuser

Wagner Tannhäuser opera to libretto by the composer. Directed 2008 by Robert Carsen at the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Stars Peter Seiffert, Markus Eiche, Petra Maria Schnitzer, Béatrice Uria-Monzon, Günther Groissböck, Vicente Ombuena, Lauri Vasar, Francisco Vas, Johann Tilli,  Eliana Bayón, Maria Such, M. Àngels Padro, Yordanka León, and Miglena Savora. Sebastian Weigle conducts the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu and the Chorus Intermezzo (Chorus Master José Luis Basso). Set design by Paul Steinberg; costume design by Constance Hoffman; lighting design by Robert Carsen and Peter van Praet; choreography by Philippe Giraudeau; video direction by Xavi Bové. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B-

We already have a decent, more-or-less traditional HDVD Tannhäuser by Lehnhoff/Jordan from the 2008 Salzburg Festival. Now C Major has published another production, also from 2008, staged by Robert Carsen at the Barcelona Liceu. The Carsen show is updated to mid-20th century. It also has an extensive overlay in that the artists in the story are not singers, but fine-art painters. The Carsen take also has a triple surprise ending, about which we will say nothing further in this mini-review.

The Liceu singers are probably slightly better than the Salzburg forces. But the Salzburg orchestra definitely sounds better than the Liceu competition. The Liceu picture quality, picture content, and sound quality are fine.

Carsen in his Venusberg Bacchanal provides 15 gorgeous (and tasteful) minutes of the best female nude to appear maybe in any opera recording ever (and in HDVD for sure). You see, if this is a story about modern painters, wouldn't Venus be a nude model? Alas, the girl who worked here as body double for Béatrice Uria-Monzo (the singing Venus) gets no credit. (Poor Dear Girl, if you will send me your name, I'll give you credit here.)

Now I get the scene at Venusville OK, but after that, it gets harder and harder to understand what is going on with Carsen's updating and overlay.  Wagner's libretto is loaded with stuff about singers, knights, sword fighting, and the like which makes no sense when updated. Also, it's a bit hard to swallow the part where the owner of an art gallery in 1950 (say) promises to award his niece to the guy who turns in the best painting (there were no lady artists in the contest). In the real Tannhäuser, people die; Carsen, however, has a happy ending! 

If you are having trouble following the  previous paragraph, then you will get my point: this Carsen production was done for elite Wagner experts who already know Tannhäuser well and can enjoy all the director's clever twists. You would do well not to show this Tannhäuser to a newbie. I started to give this the grade of "C+," but in honor of the body double and out of respect for Béatrice Uria-Monzon's suntan, I'll bump the grade to a "B-."

PS: I promised not to spoil the surprise ending. Right now, you will just have to buy the disc. But maybe after a few years I'll add a discussion of the ending and sponsor an interesting trivia contest. Maybe the prize could be the phone number of the body double.