Tannhäuser (Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg)

The premiere of Tannhäuser was on 19 October 1845 in Dresden, and Richard Wagner conducted. Although the premiere was an artistic disaster, Tannhäuser soon became a popular opera to produce for the smaller theatres in Germany. Unfortunately this was more an artistic than financial success for Wagner, since he was paid only a very small sum for the entire run.

Gwyneth Jones as Venus in Richard Wagner's opera Tannhäuser

One of the greatest scandals in theatre history occured in Paris in 1861. Wagner refused to place the obligatory ballet in the second act, which the high society members of the so-called Jockey Club required. The members of the Jockey Club would not tolerate this and ruined the performance by causing a riot.

Tannhäuser was first performed at Bayreuth in 1891 with Felix Mottl conducting in Cosima Wagner's production.

Tannhäuser poster

Tannhäuser Conductors at Bayreuth Festival >


Tannhäuser was produced in the following cities the first years after the world premiere on 19 October 1845

1849 Weimar (Franz Liszt)
1852 Schwerin
1853 Leipzig
1855 Hannover
(two performances conducted by Wagner)
1856 Berlin


Said about Tannhäuser

Mark Twain

I saw the last act of "Tannhäuser." I sat in the gloom and the deep stillness, waiting--one minute, two minutes, I do not know exactly how long--then the soft music of the hidden orchestra began to breathe its rich, long sighs out from under the distant stage, and by and by the drop-curtain parted in the middle and was drawn softly aside, disclosing the twilighted wood and a wayside shrine, with a white-robed girl praying and a man standing near. Presently that noble chorus of men's voices was heard approaching, and from that moment until the closing of the curtain it was music, just music--music to make one drunk with pleasure, music to make one take scrip and staff and beg his way round the globe to hear it.
Mark Twain in a Travel letter from Bayreuth

Richard Wagner

Die Ausrüfe: »Ach, erbarm' dich mein!« erfordern einen so durchdringenden Accent, daß er als bloßer wohlgebildeter Sänger hier nicht auskommt; sondern die höchste dramatische Kunst muß ihm die Energie des Schmerzes und der Verzweiflung für einen Ausdruck ermöglichen, der aus den schauerlichsten Tiefen eines furchtbar leidenden Herzens, wie ein Schrei nach Erlösung hervorzubrechen scheinen muß. Der Dirigent hat darüber zu wachen, daß dem Hanutsänger der angedeutete Erfolg durch allerdiskreteste Begleitung der übrigen Sänger, sowie des Orchesters ermöglicht werde. -
Sämtliche Schriften und Dichtungen: Fünfter Band. Richard Wagner: Werke, Schriften und Briefe, S. 2418 (vgl. Wagner-SuD Bd. 5, S. 135)

David Alden

Tannhäuser is a gift for any stage director. The opera is an incredible work of fantasy. It swarms with personal matters and the things he had struggled with all his life. It is a compendium of all those elements that would come along later, and that makes it harder to find a way through the different approaches to the piece and to discover what we consider its quintessence.
David Alden in conversation with Peter Jonas

It's crazy, it's insane, it's sick, it's obsessive.
David Alden in a TV documentary about Tannhäuser and Wagner

Peter Jonas

Tannhäuser is a horrible great mess of an opera. But a wonderful one.
Peter Jonas in a TV documentary about Tannhäuser and Wagner

Charles Baudelaire

It seemed to me that the music was mine, and I recognized it as any man recognizes what he is destined to love.
Charles Baudelaire





Tannhäuser on CD

Jane Eaglen (Elisabeth), Waltraud Meier (Venus), René Pape (Hermann, Landgraaf von Thuringen), Peter Seiffert (Tannhäuser), Thomas Hampson (Wolfram von Eschenbach), Gunnar Gudbjornsson (Walther von der Vogelweide), Hanno Muller-Brachman (Biterolf), Stephan Rugamer (Heinrich der Schreiber), Alfred Reiter (Reinmar von Zweter) & Dorothea Röschmann (Ein junger Hirt)
Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin & Staatskapelle Berlin

The recording is part of the box set Daniel Barenboim: Complete Wagner Operas (34 CD)

"This must be one of the most opulent recordings made of any opera. The truly remarkable range, perspective and balance of the sound is most appropriate for a work conceived on the grandest scale, yet it retains its focus in the more intimate scenes. The achievement of Barenboim's Berlin chorus, so important in this opera, and orchestra could hardly be bettered. The results are, if nothing else, an audio treat, surpassing the DG version's rather hit-and-miss engineering and the now slightly dated feel of the Decca.
The title-role, as many tenors admit, is a real killer. Seiffert is probably its most telling exponent: his performance that combines vocal assurance and emotional involvement to create a vivid portrait of the hero torn between sacred and profane love. The objects of Tannhäuser's attention are impressively portrayed by Waltraud Meier and Jane Eaglen. Meier makes the most of the bigger opportunities and brings her customary tense expression to bear on Venus's utterance, while not quite effacing Christa Ludwig's voluptous reading for Solti."
The Gramophone Classical Music Guide 2008



Kasper Holten: Tannhäuser (Copenhagen). Reviewed by Jerold Diamond



Tannhäuser Overture

Klaus Tennstedt, London Philharmonic, Suntory Hall (Tokyo, Japan)