With the utmost joy that I have my first venture at the Royal Opera House, dreams of seeing a performance have been years in the making. The actual experience though was extremely mixed.
In Wagner’s early work, it’s a mark of things to come. This feels like Diet Coke Wagner, though the extensive overture, with sexed-up dancers faffing about is a soaring highlight. Stefan Vinke as the titular anti-hero had a remarkably mixed first act, his voice cracking and lost. My heart will always go out to singers and I know what throat problems can be like. His brief bout in the second act was a sort of rest bite. He seemed to find some footing in the third and final act. Hopefully, he can find it.
Even for Wagner, this is fairly static. Tannhäuser lost in the frills of Venus has chosen to give up that sinful life and repent, the rest of the opera is his struggle to fight this addiction. Ekaterina Gubanova added a sultry sensuality as the Greek goddess, in fine frocks all evening. Saving the evening was Elisabeth played by a flawless Lise Davidsen, sweet innocent in all this, destroyed by Tannhäuser’s choices. Fine supporting casts were Gerald Finley with his superb third act aria - another highlight. The second act would see a singing competition, another plot in Wagner’s later Mastersingers of Nuremberg, not as interesting an idea as you’d expect in opera.
Tim Albery’s production remains brave, though little action hardly moves this audience. A mock proscenium arch mirrors the Royal Opera’s own, as Tannhäuser looks on in lust and fascination. Designer Michael Levine takes said arch and puts it through years of decay as the acts proceed forward. Maestro Sebastian Weigle and the orchestra remained eternal in this heavy piece. The chorus were also hushed when written and also glorious in the finale.
It runs till the 16 February
Review: James Ellis Photo: Tristram Kenton