It’s been many a month since Melbourne enjoyed a staged opera, and indeed a full year since Opera Australia last brought one of its lavish productions to town, with Lohengrin.
The company concludes its concert-only southern season with another Wagner opera, but performances across the board for this Tannhäuser are of such exceptional quality one hardly misses the sets, costumes, props, etc. Top-notch international singers, including German tenor Stefan Vinke in the title role, are joined by very talented locals who are, in at least one case, undeniably world-class.
Tannhäuser premiered in Dresden in 1845. Wagner subsequently made such significant changes to both score and libretto that there are two other recognised versions of the opera: Paris 1861 and Vienna 1875. Essentially the story remains the same, with Tannhäuser abandoning his hedonistic life as the lover of Venus, and returning to the real world where he is reunited with the virtuous Elisabeth.
After scandalising the community with his song about carnal love at a very serious singing competition, Tannhäuser seeks absolution for his sins from the Pope in Rome. Unforgiven, he returns to Germany for the opera’s tragic conclusion.