Tannhäuser, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2013Posted on 5 August 2013
This was an intriguing performance of Tannhäuser, with Donald Runnicles conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, as chief conductor of the first and music director of the second. After the long overture, there floated down from high in the gallery the lovely voices of several chorus ladies as the Sirens, and what a superb chorus this was. The two final lines, after the young pilgrims have expressed their marvel at the holy miracle redeeming Tannhäuser, were deeply moving — no wonder the audience burst into spontaneous cheers during the stage calls when Runnicles motioned the chorus to stand.
Excellent singing too from many of the soloists and principals. Daniela Sindram has a gloriously pure voice, her Venus showing a seductively melodious power that I found particularly appealing. Israeli soprano Hila Fahima also sang with great purity as the shepherd in a glamorous red dress that unfortunately outshone both Venus and the very fine Elisabeth of American soprano Heidi Melton. She showed a striking ability to cut through the orchestra, and other singers, as she intervened in the argument at the song contest. Wonderful.
There was powerful singing too from the men, with Thomas Blondelle as a strongly voiced Walther, and the role of the Landgraf taken by the extraordinary Estonian bass Ain Anger. His huge stage presence and perfect diction were matched by commanding vocal power, and I look forward to hearing him again. In the roles of Tannhäuser and Wolfram, Robert Dean Smith and Christof Pohl were vocally well matched, which worked well in Act III, where Pohl’s soliloquy to the dusk and the evening star showed a lovely tone and excellent diction, and Smith delivered a fine monologue recounting his rejection in Rome. But the problems with Robert Dean Smith’s Tannhäuser came earlier. Unlike his performance in Tristan where he was partly drowned by the orchestra, his voice carried across the restrained conducting of Runnicles, though it suffered by comparison with some of the other male voices and lacked sufficient passion. In Act I, Mein Sehnen drängt zu Kampfe (my desires urge strife) lacked forceful emotion, and in his urging of sensual delight at the song contest the angry passion was missing.
Fine conducting by Runnicles, with some excellent playing by the trumpets in particular, though the strings could not match the visceral intensity of the Berlin Staatskapelle during the Ring.