Tannhäuser, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010Posted on 13 February 2010
With Stephen Gould as Tannhäuser, and Nadja Michael as Venus/Elisabeth we had the singers for a great performance, and they didn’t disappoint. Reinhard Hagen as Landgraf Hermann also sang strongly and with a lovely tone, and Dietrich Henschel was an earnest if somewhat underpowered Wolfram. The chorus was powerful, as was Ulf Schirmer’s musical direction, but what really made the evening was Stephen Gould’s Tannhäuser. He was forceful and articulate with a superb tone and strong stage presence. This is the sort of singer one wants as Tristan or Siegfried — Covent Garden please note.
The production by Kirsten Harms was well lit by Bernd Damovsky who also designed the sets and costumes. It had some interesting and powerful moments, particularly the silver armoured horses and riders that met up with Tannhäuser in the second part of Act I, and reappeared at the back of the stage at the very end of the opera when miraculous news from Rome shows that Tannhäuser is forgiven and redeemed. At the start of Act II forty suits of armour appeared on stage and remain suspended above the action for the rest of the opera. These matched the forty beds in Act III, for the healing of the pilgrims, but those I could have done without. I want to see the pilgrims returning from Rome — the heavy tread of these exhausted men is there in the music, and when I first saw this opera, in a Götz Friedrich production at Bayreuth in 1974, they made a huge impact. Here we merely had them in the beds of a hospital ward, which I found disappointing and lacking impact.
That aside, this production was good, and Nadja Michael in her simple long white dress gave a wonderful performance as both Venus and Elisabeth. The transformations between the two were accomplished quite subtly on stage by modifying her hair, long for Venus, and braided on top for Elisabeth. But in the end this was about the singing, and that is where Stephen Gould and Nadja Michael, along with the chorus and orchestra carried it all off with great effect.