[Met Performance] CID:267130

Metropolitan Opera House, Mon, January 4, 1982

Debut : Bill Blaber, Jordan Jacobs, Jean-Briac Perrette, Erik Peter Mortensen, John Krinsky

Tannhäuser (418)
Richard Wagner | Richard Wagner
Richard Cassilly

Leonie Rysanek

Bernd Weikl

Mignon Dunn

Simon Estes

Richard Kness

Charles Anthony

Vern Shinall

William Fleck

Kathleen Battle

Charles Coleman

David Owen

Bill Blaber [Debut]

Jordan Jacobs [Debut]

Owen Renfroe

Jean-Briac Perrette [Debut]

Erik Peter Mortensen [Debut]

John Krinsky [Debut]

James Levine

Otto Schenk

Set Designer
Günther Schneider-Siemssen

Costume Designer
Patricia Zipprodt

Lighting Designer
Gil Wechsler

Norbert Vesak

Stage Director
Phebe Berkowitz

Tannhäuser received eight performances this season.
The Paris version was performed.

Review 1:

Review of Leighton Kerner in the Village Voice

Born Again Wagner

The world's major opera houses depend on new productions for constellations of star singers, conductors, and directors, but because these shows consume months of preparation and more weeks of rehearsal than the budget allows for old productions, the new ones cannot be plentiful. Thus the world's major opera houses depend on revivals to fill out the season's schedule and, not incidentally, help amortize the initial production costs. In the midst of a recent spate of revivals at the Met, top honors went unequivocally to "Tannhäuser."

Wagner's romantic opera was newly staged and designed in the 1977-78 season as a successful reversal of the non-representational, albeit poetic, 1950's and '60s stagecraft of the late Weiland Wagner and his inferior, but insistent, imitators. The scenery and projections by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen achieved (with modern technology, and with Gil Wechsler's lighting). a valid argument for Wagner's original stage indications. The first-act transformation from the Venusberg grotto, with an earthen passion-pit, blue waterfall, and rosy fogs, to the Wartburg valley, with its near and distant forests, was a modern matter of rapidly flown scrims and instant light-changes, rather than a 19th century scheme of smoke-pots and painted drops rolled up or down. And the second-act Hall of Song was a round, warm-looking room filled with tapestries evocative of heroic deeds and apparently solid-wood furniture suitable for the nobility as well as richly costumed choristers. (Broadway's Patricia Zipprodt had done the wardrobe honors. One aspect of the decor, however, remains troublesome. The valley scene in act one, which takes place in May, should show some green on the ground and in the trees. (At least the scene's autumn version in act three has red leaves.)

The direction by Otto Schenk, rehearsed this season by Met staffer Phebe Berkowitz, was revived in all its rich detail, except where some of the new casting created a problem. There was no problem at all from the production's original Elisabeth, Leonie Rysanek. The light of her eyes and the radiance of her smile as she greeted, first, the newly reopened and resounding Hall of Song itself and, in succession, the returned minstrel Tannhäuser, her uncle, the Thuringian Landgrave Hermann, and her friends among the guests and contenders in the ensuing song-tournament were essential parts of a highly individualized young lady who bears no one malice but does indeed hope that the man she loves, Tannhäuser, will win the contest, and that the other man who loves her, Wolfram von Eschenbach (author of the epic from which Wagner would eventually derive Parsifal), won't grieve too much. Moreover, Miss Rysanek sang the role with what I can only call a "younger" voice than I can recall in 24 years of listening to her. The high register was always fiery and true, but this time her middle and lower range as well seemed in no danger of wobble or dip from the pitch. Elisabeth's fierce, frightened interruption of the second-act choral onslaught against her unfaithful hero, therefore, cut through like an angelic flame, and her third-act prayer for her own death and Tannhäuser's salvation rent only the heart, never the ear. And returning to nonmusical matters, her long, slow final exit remained a lesson in economical but indelibly poetic stage-movement.

As before, James Levine conducted his orchestra and chorus into peaks of thrilling sonority. Also as before, Richard Cassilly, while lacking the full sensitivity to the sacred-versus-profane dilemma and the lyrical tendencies of the production's original title-performer, James McCracken, nevertheless sang out like a true heroic tenor, the metal in his voice quite untarnished, and made his two mad scenes fairly spine-tingling. And once again, Bernd Weikl sang all Wolfram's songs, not only "O du, mein holder Abendstern," with manly lyricism and induced tears with his recitatives and ariosi at the [beginning] of act three. Just as affecting was the moment near the end of the second act when Weikl's Wolfram, standing between Elisabeth and Tannhäuser (the two people he loves most) is visibly shaken by the realization of what is in store for them.

Mignon Dunn turned in a Venus expectedly voluptuous in sound as well as appearance. But Simon Estes proved an emotionally bland and vocally inadequate Landgrave. Not only did he lack vocal body in the part's lower range, but his voice-production as a whole seemed inimical to Wagnerian line; it's suitable perhaps for certain American and English music, but in German opera the sound is alien. Also, his verbal sounds were much too southern American; I know I'm off base geographically and that he comes from Iowa, but the words nevertheless fell strangely on ears expecting German vowels as sustained by this music. The fact that he's black has, I think, little to do with it. Other black singers have succeeded wonderfully in German repertory - notably William Warfield in Brahms lieder and George Shirley in Mozart's German repertory. And it's doubly unfortunate that his official Met debut was preceded by so much high-pressure publicity.

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