An Outstanding Tannhäuser under Pedro Halffter

SpainSpain Wagner, Tannhäuser: Coro de la Asociación de Amigos dela Maestranza, Real Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla / Pedro Halffter (conductor), Teatro de la Maestranza, Seville, 28.10.2016. (JMI)

Tannhäuser. Courtesy Teatro de la Maestranza.
Tannhäuser (c) Teatro de la Maestranza.

Tannhäuser – Peter Seiffert
Elizabeth – Ricarda Merbeth
Wolfram – Martin Gantner
Venus – Alexandra Petersamer
Landgrave – Attila Jun
Biterolf – Damián del Castillo
Walther – Vicente Ombuena
Reinmar – David Lagares
Heinrich – José Manuel Montero
Shepherd – Estefanía Perdomo

Director – Achim Thorwald
Sets – Christian Floeren
Costumes – Ute Frühling-Stief
Lighting – Juan Manuel Guerra
Choreography – Carolina Armenta

The new Seville season has opened with Tannhäuser, an opera that has not been performed in this theatre since a 1997 Werner Herzog production. The saying that things were better in the past does not apply in this case. The current staging – much more rewarding than the one done here 19 years ago – featured a remarkable musical performance and two superb protagonists.

The production was done in collaboration with Poznań’s Teatr Wielki, and could be seen six years ago in Trieste. It’s a very traditional work, which should appeal to the nostalgic, and rather low-budget. The sets offer a minimalist Venusberg, with cushions and choreography (this is the Paris version). Act II takes place in a large room with white walls. In the third act, there is an open space with columns in ruins, dominated by a statue of Virgin Mary. The nineteenth-century costumes are mainly black, especially for the chorus of guests, perhaps to contrast with the white walls.

Achim Thorwald narrates the plot in an effective way. In general, the chorus is rather static, and the soloists take advantage of their long familiarity with their characters. The only original twist is that Elizabeth’s death is the salvation not only of Tannhäuser but also of Venus.

One of the highlights of this performance was the musical reading by Pedro Halffter, who has a long history in the German repertoire and is surely the best Wagnerian conductor in Spain. Halffter was especially convincing in the last two acts: they were brilliant and even moving. I cannot say the same of Act I where things were not at the same level, but overall this was an outstanding Tannhäuser. Under his baton the orchestra gave a fine performance, and the same can be said of the chorus.

Once again, Peter Seiffert sang the part of Tannhäuser and, once again, he confirmed his mastery of the role. His timbre remains bright and fresh with sufficient width, and he’s an outstanding performer who solves all the vocal difficulties of the character – and there are more than a few. For some time now, Seiffert has exhibited an annoying vibrato, but it’s not getting worse, and you forget about it because of his command of the role. For me, he and Stephen Gould are the best Tannhäusers today.

Ricarda Merbeth is a very experienced Elizabeth, a role she has played on many occasions and in the most important opera houses. She is a singer who never disappoints and is always fully convincing. Her Elizabeth was faultless, and marvellous in the second act.

While the two main protagonists were exceptional, I cannot say the same of Martin Gantner as Wolfram. His performance was correct but somewhat modest; a more striking Wolfram was required to complete the trio of protagonists. Martin Gantner is a solid performer in all he sings, but Wolfram demands more than this.

German mezzo soprano Alexandra Petersamer did well in the part of Venus. Although her voice was fine in the middle, her high notes are tight and she is rather short at the bottom.

Attila Jun was a sonorous and convincing Landgrave, with a wide middle range.

In the secondary characters, Damian del Castillo did nicely as Biterolf, although I prefer a bass to a baritone in the character. Vicente Ombuena was also strong in the part of Walther, and Estefania Perdomo left a good impression as Shepherd.

José M. Irurzun

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