Tannhäuser at Longborough

I had heard such good things about Wagner at Longborough that I went to Tannhäuser for my first visit there with high expectations. I have to admit that I was to be somewhat disappointed. Not with the theatre and its lovely setting in the Cotswolds; nor with the organisation and friendliness of the festival and its administration. Rather the performance. Take first the orchestra. Both strings and brass had their less than easy moments and while, under the impetus of Anthony Negus, the more dramatic passages came off well, the quieter, lyrical passages were not as fluid as they should have been. There was one outstanding singer in the cast. The young soprano Erika Mädi Jones was a revelation as Elisabeth.The silvery top to the voice shined in Dich, teure Halle, but it was strong throughout the register; and, having so thoroughly internalised the role, she was able, with the aid of her excellent German, to make much of the text. Her acting too was impressive: this was no simple religiously inspired maiden, but a young woman whose emotional involvement with Tannhäuser involved desire as well as adoration. Hrólfur Sæmundsson as Wolfram sang reasonably well but his characterisation had little depth. And in the title role, Neal Cooper’s hard-edged, loud tenor proved to be tiresome for a whole evening.

The opening of Alan Privett’s production was intriguing: Tannhäuser in 19th century attire, surrounded by books, attempts to write (a letter?) but obviously is doubtful as to what he should say. He is interrupted by a woman and his interaction with her does not resolve his dilemma. Symbolic of his tortured ambivalence between convention and ostracism, sexuality and purity, religion and atheism, this sequence promised a dramatically interesting take on the piece. But it was followed-up only half-heartedly and most of the staging, including a tame ending, was traditional without further insights. Yes, a disappointing first encounter with Longborough.