Saturday, 25 December 2010

What's up in Venusberg? Melchior naked Tannhäuser

What's really going on in Venusberg? Why are the good folks of Wartburg so afraid ? Much praise for the ballet in the Royal Opera House production of Wagner Tannhäuser because it is beautiful - maidens in white slips waving and bending. As ballet, it's wonderful. But is it Venusberg? Of course sinister things don't "need" to be depicted. Most of us are used to polite images of Venusberg with naked women looking charming, but in the 19th century just showing a nude was titilliating, especially if you were sitting next to a buttoned up High Victorian matron.

What did Wagner think? Anyone who insists on following stage directions to the letter is in for a serious shock! Wagner wanted depravity. Bacchantes, satyrs and fauns: all famous for debauchery. Wagner explicitly depicts ein Nebelbild zeigt die Entführung der Europa, a picture in the clouds of the Rape of Europa, a nymph who's carried off by an oversexed bull. If that's not enough, Wagner later mentions Leda, who caresses a swan on her lap. What Wagner's audiences knew was that the swan then rapes the girl.  Bestiality, drunkeness, violence and disorderly abandon. Read Wagner's exact words (and translation) HERE. So those who piously talk platitudes about "modern" values in stagecraft should go back to source and be grateful that Jasmin Vardiman's ballet cleans things up.

Listening to the broadcast on BBC Radio 3 was wonderful. It's available online internationally for 7 days. Because its repeated, no need to cram everything into one listening.

This time really concentrate on the singing, which is magnificent. Gerhaher is beautiful, but Westbroek and Johan Botha are able to develop the complexity that makes the roles so fascinating. As Tannhäuser tells Wolfram, "You lot don't even begin to understand." Botha knows what motivates Tannhäuser and why. And if you REALLY want a shock, search for the Life magazine spread on Lauritz Melchior at the Met in 1943. See Melchior naked! He's completely unconcerned about being seen in his girdle and love handles. This pic is not part of it as far as I can track, and it's pretty tame. By reputation, Melchior was probably the greatest Tannhäuser there ever was. "It's the singing, stupid" he might say.PLENTY MORE ON THIS SITE about Wagner and specifically the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser


Dodorock said...

Be blessed for the BBC link and comments Anne.
Your Melchior capture recalls me of one Tannhäuser photo (the same Met? it is reproduced in an Avant scène opéra I had) where he voluptuously kneels before his overwhelmed queen "en délire".
My best greetings

leonora said...

I thought the ballet was very attractive, esp. the girl who did the flying leap off the table into her partner's arms....but erotic it was not! Far too sane and healthy for the Venusberg.

Doundou Tchil said...

The ballet was beautiful but a lot of the audience ended up thinking it was better than Wartburg. I've written lots about this production (seelabels) and specifically about the ballet