Friday, 29 April 2016

Behind the Proscenium Arch (ROH/Tannhäuser)

Wagner, Tannhäuser (Hartmut Haenchen cond. Orchestra of the Royal Opera House)
A revival of Tim Albery’s production of Tannhäuser was occasion for some seriously good Wagnerian singing and music-making at Covent Garden on Tuesday night (26th April). This wasn’t the loveliest production of an opera you might ever see, but the premise worked and wasn’t too gimmicky. Venusberg was a replica of the ROH’s proscenium arch – such a perfect simulacrum that one challenged the verité of what the eyes reported. It began with an impressive dance sequence (choreographed by Jasmin Vardimon) representing the temptations of Venusberg’s delights. It progressively is broken down, and then presented as a pile of ashes. David Finn lights the set to gloomy without necessitating too much squinting.
Musically, Hartmut Haenchen produced a careful account of the text which gave maximum space to drama and singing.

Formidable competition: Christian Gerhaher as Wolfram in Tannhäuser, The Royal Opera

Much of the second act is concerned with singing, and so too is this production; most will come for some of the singers before anything else. If I ever, heaven forfend, found myself in a singing competition, the person whom I would least like to see as competition would be Christian Gerhaher; if there is anyone better, I’d like to know. The temptation is to throw superlatives around – sweeter, as Handel put it, than the honeydew. Rarely have I head singers command such attention from the audience; I wondered if people might not fall over the balcony-edge. This wasn’t loud singing but it carried. Given he was wearing eveningwear, it almost seemed as it was a recital. Gerhaher’s skilful careful shaping of each and every sound paid extraordinary dividends. It was undoubtedly worth the admission for the first half hour of the final act, when Elisabeth (Emma Bell), Gerhaher and the forces of the ROH orchestra at the hands of Haenchen produced a singularly sublime, perfect half-hour of lyrical Wagner. Tannhäuser (Peter Seiffert) himself wasn’t a very strong actor, but he could sing so well, nobody really minded. It is always a pleasure to hear Ed Lyon, who made a decent Walther von der Vogelweide.
Female voices were strong too. Sophie Koch made for a convincing temptress as Venus. Elisabeth was done very well by Emma Bell with a beautiful tone, good volume, and security in the high notes.
Production wise, this wasn’t perfect, but for music, it is hard to beat.

In rep. until 15th May; on radio 3 21st May at 6pm.

Director - Tim Albery
Set designer - Michael Levine
Costume designer - Jon Morrell
Lighting designer - David Finn
Choreography, Venusberg scene - Jasmin Vardimon
Movement director - Maxine Braham
Conductor - Hartmut Haenchen
Tannhäuser - Peter Seiffert
Elisabeth - Emma Bell
Venus - Sophie Koch
Wolfram von Eschinbach - Christian Gerhaher
Herrmann - Stephen Milling
Biterolf - Michael Kraus
Walther von der Vogelweide - Ed Lyon
Heinrich der Schreiber - Samuel Sakker
Reinmar von Zweter - Jeremy White
Royal Opera Chorus
Concert master Chorus - Ania Safonova
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

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