* Notes *
Yesterday Tannhäuser had its final performance this season at Staatsoper Unter den Linden. To my great surprise, Harry Kupfer's production was fairly simple and worked well. The lines were clean and Buki Shiff's costumes for the principals were inoffensive, and some of her evening gowns for the chorus were stunning. This is consistent with her work in the David Alden production of Rodelinda in Munich and San Francisco. There was a particular red number with one feathered sleeve that was fetching. The staging was amusing, the bacchanalia ballet was conducted on top of an over-sized white piano. The nude dancers were painted white in most cases, but one was also gold, and for the most part they just held various modern dance poses. The piano reappeared in a black guise for Act II, and the hall was not unlike an opera house. Part of the staging had a supernumerary arriving late and trying to find her seat, which she had great difficulty with, naturally. Another recurrent theme was having Tannhäuser supine on ground, which was where he started the opera and where he was found by the hunting party. Best of all, he threw himself into this position before the Pope after singing "Nach Rom!" at the end of Act II.
Musically there were a few rough starts, the hunting horns at the end of Act I Scene 3 were clearly flat at times and Anne Schwanewilms (Elisabeth) was not great in her first aria, "Dich, teure Halle." For the most part the orchestra sounded good, Philippe Jordan kept the musicians together and reigned them in so that the singers were never completely overwhelmed. Soprano Schwanewilms sounded quite beautiful after she was warmed up, she only cracked slightly on the word auch when she protected Tannhäuser after the song contest. Michaela Schuster sang well as Venus, her dark tones in fine contrast with Schwanewilms' brilliance. Robert Dean Smith was convincing as Tannhäuser, his pretty voice did sound heroic and tragic when necessary. He was a bit quiet, though not as weak as Roman Trekel (Wolfram). Trekel lacked resonance and volume, and his "O du, mein holder Abendstern" was the only moment in the opera that was truly disappointing. Nonetheless, this performance was the best I have witnessed at the Staatsoper in Berlin, the end was absolutely transcendent.
* Tattling *
There was a small fire somewhere in the opera house during Act II Scene 3 and one could smell the smoke in the third tier. As the Landgraf and Elisabeth sang, the audience stood up and some people started to exit. The singers looked rather confused, and someone came out to explain that the fire had been extinguished and that there was no danger. Then we stood around for a bit, and someone else came out and said we would take a 15 minute intermission to wait for the smoke to clear.
Someone on the left side of the third tier was wearing a watch with an alarm on the hour, which I heard at least three times. Additionally, somehow I sat amidst a school group from Majorca, pianists from the ages of 12-20. They did not understand German terribly well, and the three on the right of center made us get up about 10 times during the intermissions so that they could get from one side of the theater to another. These children had to be hushed multiple times, which they found entertaining. However, they did quiet down, and whispered instead of speaking aloud. They also took a half dozen flash photographs during the performance. I believe they will also be at the performance of Don Giovanni tonight.