Opera Review

Powerful production lifts ‘Tannhauser’

By Juliet Schoen / Staff Writer

Will there be a rating system for opera after the Los Angeles Opera’s current production of Wagner’s “Tannhauser?” The opening scene is the famous “Bacchanal,” which takes place in the abode of Venus and certainly would require an X rating. With red as the sexy theme color, the men and women who are gathered around the alluring goddess throw themselves into a frenzy of choreographed sex, which is both graphic and amusing. Stockings are thrown, panties are dropped and bodices are ripped off. Sounds like a Barbara Cartland novel.

Once past this outrageous scene, played to the glorious music of Wagner’s overture, the opera settles down to tell the story of the hero, a troubadour who is torn between lust and spirituality. Understandably tired of the sex-go-round at Venusberg, he finds his way to the castle of Wartburg where he is welcomed as a prodigal son. There he finds his true love, the virginal Elisabeth. However, he continues with his inner struggle and when he sings about his carnal pleasures, the court orders him to join a pilgrimage to Rome.

The opera is supposed to take place at a time of knights and pilgrims but a pseudo-modern twist has been substituted and works well. The knights wear business suits and hats while the pilgrims don white robes. Both Venus and Elisabeth wear the same style gown, beautiful and modern, but one is red and the other white. Huge door panels rotate to change the scenes effortlessly.

Because the music is so sensual and the singing so masterful, it is easy to fall under the spell of this lengthy opera. James Conlon, the new music director of the Los Angeles Opera, proves his familiarity with Wagner by producing ravishing tones.


Much credit must go to Peter Seiffert, who has the difficult role of Tannhauser and is onstage for most of the three acts. He has a pure voice with the power required of a heldentenor. The other major roles are beautifully sung. Looking glamorous with a voluminous white satin robe draped over her shoulders, Petra Maria Schnitzer is perfect as Elisabeth. Her singing and acting are wonderful. Lioba Braun shines as Venus. Others have important parts, notably Martin Gantner who delivers the lovely “evening star” aria. Franz Josef Selig, Rodrick Dixon, Robert MacNeil, Jason Stearns and Christopher Feigum make excellent contributions.

Gottfried Pilz was responsible for the creative sets and costumes. William Vendice led the Los Angeles Opera Chorus, which plays an integral part in the proceedings.

Ian Judge as the director must be credited with making the production so workable. Once past the initial scene, he carefully arranges large numbers of chorus members and extras in dramatic fashion.

Will an X rating bring more people into the opera house? In the case of the Music Center’s “Tannhauser,” the draw should be the ravishing music and excellent production.

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