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.