Basia Jaworska


I have never been a ‘Wagnerian’. I could never muster the patience to sit through hours of his operas. I found them bombastic. Pathetic. And even though I had to admit that there were some beautiful melodies, I felt that I really needed a pair of scissors and radically shorten them

That this feeling has totally changed, I owe to Domingo. In my collector’s mania (I had to have everything he had done), I bought the recently released Tannhäuser (DG 4276252) in 1989. And then it happened: I became addicted.

At first, it was mainly Domingo who was to ‘blame’, whose deeply human interpretation of the title role gave me the goose bumps. His words:  “Wie sagst du, Wofram? Bist du denn nicht mein Feind?” (sung with emphasis on ‘mein’ and ‘Feind’ and with a childish question mark at the end of the phrase) caused me to burst into tears.

Later, I learned to appreciate the music for itself and to this day, Tannhäuser is not only a very beloved Wagner opera, but also one of my absolute favourites.

I still consider this recording, conducted very sensually by Giueseppe Sinopoli, to be one of the best ever. Also because all the roles (Cheryl Studer as Elisabeth and Agnes Baltsa as Venus, such wealth!) are excellently cast. At the time, in the eighties and early nineties, this was not necessarily a given.


In those years there was a lack mainly of good tenors and that can be clearly heard on these two DVD – recordings. Otto Schenk’s insanely beautiful 1982 production, recorded at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (DG 0734171) dates from 1977. If you like very realistic, lavish sets and ditto costumes (I do) you can have a lot of fun with this. Just about the entire Venus grotto from Schloss Neuschwanstein was recreated for the opening scene, and the ballet presents us with a truly orgasmic Bacchanal.

The orchestra, conducted by James Levine, plays mostly lyrical and light, there is nothing to criticise at all. Eva Marton is a fine Elisabeth, Tatiana Troyanos a wonderfully sensual and seductive Venus.

Bernd Weikl, one of my favourite baritones sings an irresistible Wolfram, although he messes up his great aria by trying to give his (in principle) lyrical voice too much volume, making his voice unsteady.

And although the Landgrave (John Macurdy) is really terrible, I would not have had a problem with that recording, provided … yes … provided the tenor had not been so awful. The textbook mentions “the very highest standard”, well, I’m not so sure about that. Richard Cassilly is a physically very unattractive Tannhäuser with a pinched voice and a total lack of lyricism, giving the impression of having wandered into the wrong opera.

Arrival of the guests at Wartburg:


Even worse is the 1989 recording (Euroarts 2072008) from Beyrouth. Wolfgand Wagner’s direction is mainly symbolic, thus everything takes place in a circle (circle of life? Seasons? Panta Rhei?) and already during the overture the pilgrims are walking around the stage.

The costumes are not particularly flattering to the singers, which is particularly merciless for poor Cheryl Studer (Elisabeth). Her breathtakingly sung evening prayer is of a touching beauty. Both Hans Sotin (de Landgraaf) and Wolfgang Brendel (Wolfram) are undoubtedly excellent, but yes, again, there is no good leading role.

Richard Versalle as Tannhäuser:

Calosc TUTAJ

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