Composer Richard Wagner

Thursday, 27. July 2006
06:00 pm – 10:35 pm

Duration est. 4 hours 35 minutes · 1. Aufzug (est. 06:00 pm - 07:20 pm ) · Interval (est. 07:20 pm - 07:55 pm ) · 2. Aufzug (est. 07:55 pm - 09:00 pm ) · Interval (est. 09:00 pm - 09:40 pm ) · 3. Aufzug (est. 09:40 pm - 10:35 pm )

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Musikalische Leitung
Zubin Mehta
nach einer Inszenierung von
David Alden
Roni Toren
Buki Shiff
Vivienne Newport
Pat Collins
Sören Eckhoff

Jan-Hendrik Rootering
Robert Gambill
Wolfram von Eschenbach
Simon Keenlyside
Walther von der Vogelweide
Ulrich Reß
Tom Fox
Heinrich der Schreiber
Kenneth Roberson
Reinmar von Zweter
Gerhard Auer
Anja Harteros
Waltraud Meier
Ein junger Hirt
Solist/en des Tölzer Knabenchors
Vier Edelknaben
Solist/en des Tölzer Knabenchors
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What does a man want? Love or lust? Answer: both!  Tannhäuser has feasted on lust in the realm of Venus. But his excesses are anything but compatible with the strait-laced morality of the society in which he competes in song for Elisabeth's love. That precipitates an uproar …Tannhäuser: artist, outcast – the destiny of an outsider set against the intoxicating power of music at its highest erotic level. A Wagnerian banquet.


Act One

Tannhäuser, a member of the Minnesinger minstrels attached to the court of the Landgrave Hermann, had become disenchanted with this society and its rigid artistic ideals. For this reason he had left this familiar circle to seek refuge in a visionary world which enabled him to gain access to the Venusberg: the realm of the goddess Venus who has become his muse. Howeber, his dream of eternal love and artistic inspiration turns into a nightmare from which he has to escape. He struggles to free himself from the enticements of Venus. Only by turning to the Virgin Mary is he able to escape from the realm of Venus.

Tannhäuser finds himself once more in the human world. A young shepherd sings in praise of spring awakening. Pilgrims travelling to Rome pass by. Tannhäuser joins in their prayers and is discovered by Landgrave Hermann and the Minnesingers. Wolfram von Eschenbach recognises his long lost friend. Tannhäuser evades the question of where he has been for so long and desires to move on. When Wolfram mentions the name of Elisabeth, the Landgrave's niece, and tells how deeply impressed she is by Tannhäuser's songs, Tannhäuser decides to return. He wants to see Elisabeth.

Act Two

Elisabeth greets the hall of the singers. She has not entered it since Tannhäuser's disappearance. When Tannhäuser enters, she can scarcely conceal her feelings for him. He too admits that the thought of her was the only thing that caused him to return. The Landgrave is pleased to find his niece in the hall. He suspects why she has returned again after such a long absence. The Landgrave greets the guests who have come to witness the Minnesingers' song contest. As a topic for the singers he poses the problem "to fathom the essence of love". Wolfram, Walther von der Vogelweide and Biterolf sing in praise of pure and idealized love. Tannhäuser, on the other hand, names sensual pleasure as being the true essence of love. He allows himself to be carried away by his passion and invokes the goddess of love herself. The assembled guests are shocked and want to kill Tannhäuser. But Elisabeth, although herself deeply offended by Tannhäuser's outburst, intervenes and places herself before him. The Landgrave pronounces his judgement: Tannhäuser is to be banished; he is to join the pilgrims going to Rome and must beg the Pope for forgiveness.

Act Three

Elisabeth is awaiting Tannhäuser's return. The pilgrims return from Rome, but Tannhäuser is not among them. Elisabeth implores the Virgin Mary to take her life as expiation for his sins. Wolfram has been watching her. In his song to the evening star he sings of her impending death. Tannhäuser appears and tells Wolfram of his sufferings on the pilgrimage to Rome and that the Pope refused to pardon him as he had hoped. He has no other choice but to once again seek refuge in the Venusberg. By invoking the power of Elisabeth's name, Wolfram is able to break the goddess's spell. A procession aprroaches with Elisabeth's dead body. Her death is Tannhäuser's redemption. Young pilgrims returning from Rome announce that Tannhäuser has gained absolution: the Pope's staff has put forth fresh green leaves. Tannhäuser dies.

Translation: Christopher Balme
© Bavarian State Opera

General Director Peter Jonas talks to stage director David Alden (1994)

Peter Jonas: You're working for the first time in Germany, yet fifteen years have passed since your début at the Met, when you got rave reviews from the critics for your Wozzeck production. Since that time you have been described as a radical, who has gradually matured without ever losing the provocative sharpness of his style.

David Alden: In 1976 I visited Europe, looked at everything and had a chance to absorb what Strehler, Kupfer, Neuenfels and Berghaus were doing. That was a revelation for me, which uncovered and articulated what had been occupying my own consciousness with burning intensity. My first work in Europe was Rigoletto at the Scottish Opera in the late seventies, and, as far as I know, it unleashed a flood of stylistic controversy. In England, it was still very early to speak directly to the audience with the style I was attempting and place passion and schizophrenia on the stage. The outcry of the critics didn't bother me then, nor does it today, because it is post-coital - sometimes interesting and amusing, but always "post factum". I had my joy at the rehearsals, and then in the performances, which I repeatedly attend when I like what I've done. If I don't like it, I run away from the scene of the crime.

Peter Jonas: Many people have said your work is too angry. What do you say to that?

David Alden: Yes, I believe there is plenty of rage in my stagings, but it is also combined with passionate emotions, with longing and sometimes with tenderness as well. A high tension that upsets people - that's the style I'm striving for. It all has to do with the way I myself react to the music. I respond very intensively to music, and this intensity which comes from the score must find its equivalent in the dramatic power of the performance and the visual depiction on the stage. I am obsessed with music - it gives me energy and my works a certain nervous tension.

Peter Jonas: Critics say your work has become more mature - and you've matured yourself, or more simply stated, have just grown older. How do you believe this has changed or further developed your style?

David Alden: The older you get the more experience you gain. You simply see more possibilities in a given situation. I personally tend toward living more and more dangerously, and that has an effect on my work. On the other hand, when you get older and add experience, your approach to every work becomes more difficult. There is much existential anxiety connected with that, which certainly comes from my own being and the electricity that builds up at the rehearsals.

Peter Jonas: Now you are doing your first Wagner here in Munich. What's your attitude toward Wagner? Why has his work come along so late in your artistic development?

David Alden: Actually I didn't arrive at Wagner all that late in my development. I've been absorbed with Wagner since I was sixteen: Wagner's works were my earliest passion, and have remained so for thirty years. I've read everything I could get my hands on - about the man himself and his works. Wagner is an obsession in my life, just as the Wagnerian obsession in the lives of many people comes and goes. I simply waited until the right offer at the right time for the right place came along, and this waiting period lasted more than twenty years.

Peter Jonas: Does Tannhäuser bring along any specific problems?

David Alden: Every work brings along specific problems, but Tannhäuser is a gift for any stage director. The opera is an incredible work of fantasy. It swarms with personal matters and the things he had struggled with all his life. It is a compendium of all those elements that would come along later, and that makes it harder to find a way through the different approaches to the piece and to discover what we consider its quintessence. But if all you ever had to struggle with were those problems: having to cope with too much material. No, Tannhäuser is a powerful challenge. The thing I love about Wagner's work is the subliminal, the erotic, the visionary factor - and that's how I stage things as well. I try to acquire an awareness of the archetypes, images and symbols and bring them to the surface; the music was composed to be interpreted that way. Wagner has nothing to do with realism or naturalism, but his work rather expresses the mental landscape of a man, treats sections of his personality that may be in conflict with one another - and people who may seem real but are in actual fact products of his dreams, which he can use or not as he pleases. It has to do with the strata of a personality.

Peter Jonas: Can you describe Tannhäuser's dilemma?

David Alden: Oh, I identify very keenly with the character of Tannhäuser. Most artists, when they meditate on the world, will identify with this figure on one level or another. Tannhäuser is conventionally described as a man torn back and forth between divine and earthly love. I wouldn't describe it like that at all. I think the issue here is the imagination of the artist, how he works and the inner source of creativity. What forces a human being to be an artist? It has to do with whether the artist can establish himself in the world, and how the world reacts to him. The entire metaphoric context of the virgin and the whore in this opera, the celestial and the terrestrial is only one of the levels of the many conflicts and problems, because sexuality and artistic creativity in this work are metaphors for one another. The third great theme is religion and the eternal awareness of a human being of having been born guilty, and it has to do with the fact that the sensuous nature of a person is something that fills him with profound horror, for which he must do penitence and which he must run away from.

English translation by Donald Arthur
© Bavarian State Opera

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David Alden wurde in New York geboren. Er sorgte für aufsehenerregende Inszenierungen an der English National Oper, zudem arbeitete er u. a. an der Metropolitan Opera New York, der Nederlandse Opera, beim Edinburgh Festival, am Teatro Real in Madrid, an der Wiener Volksoper, der Komischen Oper Berlin, der Deutschen Oper Berlin, am Bolschoi-Theater in Moskau, an der Staatsoper Hamburg, der Oper Frankfurt und an der New Israeli Opera Tel Aviv. An der Bayerischen Staatsoper inszenierte er u. a. zahlreiche Werke Monteverdis, Händels und Wagners. Er verfilmte Schuberts Die Winterreise und Kurt Weills Die sieben Todsünden, erstellte eine Verdi-Dokumentation im Auftrag der BBC und gestaltete die Welttournee der Rockgruppe The Pet Shop Boys. 2001 wurde er mit dem Bayerischen Theaterpreis ausgezeichnet. (Stand 2017)

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