Tannhäuser and the Singers' Contest at Wartburg

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

18:00 - 22:00
D-Prices: € 136,– / € 100,– / € 72,– / € 44,– / € 26,–
Information about the work

Romantic opera in three acts
First performed on 19th October, 1845 in Dresden
Premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin on 30th November 2008

4 hrs / 2 intervals

In German with German and English surtitles

Introduction (in German language): 45 minutes before beginning; Rang-Foyer

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18:00 - 22:00
D-Prices: € 136,– / € 100,– / € 72,– / € 44,– / € 26,–
the content

About the work
Repelled by the dispassion of the Wartburg society of minnesingers, Tannhäuser, a singer-knight, removes to the interior of the Venusberg in search of fulfilment. Eventually his longing for Elisabeth leads him to leave again. Back at the Wartburg castle, Tannhäuser takes part in a singing contest whose theme is the nature of love, but when he sings that love is ideally about sensual satisfaction, he is cast out and sent to Rome to seek papal absolution. He returns from Rome without the hoped-for indulgence and resolves to return to the Venusberg. Then a miracle occurs and he finds redemption after all.

Of all Richard Wagner’s operas, this is arguably the one most closely associated with the composer’s own biography and his conception of himself as an artist. The tale of the song contest in the Wartburg castle contains all the themes common to Romantic conflict in art: the quest for social acceptance on the one hand pitted against a questioning of conventions on the other; the search for sensual fulfilment – and its irreconcilability with an idealised, de-sexualised concept of womanhood; and not least the conflict between self-expression in life as in art and the guilt engendered by this egomania.

About the production
In her production for the Deutsche Oper Berlin Kristen Harms focuses on the complicated relationship between Tannhäuser and Elisabeth, a young Thuringian noblewoman, who represents the ideal of pure, pristine love. Harms sees TANNHÄUSER as “a tale of two people, each with two souls in their breast”. This accounts for her casting of a single singer to play both Elisabeth and Venus, who fuse at the end of the opera into a single person, one who has found redemption. As for Tannhäuser, Harms presents him and his mild-mannered friend Wolfram von Eschenbach as two character sides of the same coin.

By the same token the Venusberg, Tannhäuser’s abode at the start of the opera, is deemed by Harms to be “not a den of vice but a realm in which wish, insistence and desire are interwoven in a knot of libidinous fulfilment.” The story is told against a backdrop of tableaux that draw on illustrations found in texts of the High Middle Ages yet also incorporate a touchstone to the present day.

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Adventskalender im Foyer: Das 4. Fensterchen

African American Spirituals
with Christian Simmons and John Parr
5.00 p.m. / Rang-Foyer right
Duration: approx. 25 minutes / admission free

In Germany, it is still little known today that, parallel to the development of the European song, the spiritual in the USA looks back on a tradition that goes back to the 17th century. Created during the oppression of slavery as songs of labour, freedom, play, lamentation, celebration or lullabies, African-American spirituals form the starting point for gospel, blues and ultimately also for jazz, R&B and African-American music in general. Spirituals are characterised by their rhythmic finesse, which includes counter-rhythms, polyrhythms and syncopation. The tonality is characterised by microtonality, pentatonic scales and the varied use of the singing voice. All these elements suggest that the influences of African music, as brought to America by slaves, have survived over the centuries, mostly passed down orally, to this day.

The bass-baritone Christian Simmons, originally from Washington D.C., was a member of the Cafritz Young Artists of the Washington National Opera in the 2022/23 season and joined the ensemble of the Deutsche Oper Berlin as a scholarship holder of the Opera Foundation New York in the 2023/24 season. Over the course of the season, he will appear in roles such as Lord Rochefort / ANNA BOLENA, 2nd Harnischter / DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE, Pinellino / GIANNI SCHICCHI, Brabantischer Edler / LOHENGRIN, Oberpriester des Baal / NABUCCO and Sciarrone / TOSCA. Simmons is the district winner of the Metropolitan Opera's 2022/23 Eric and Dominique Laffont Competition, winner of the 2017 Harlem Opera Theater Vocal Competition, winner of the 2016 National Association of Teaching Singing (NATS) Regional Competition, and an Honorary Life Member of the Coalition for African Americans in the Performing Arts (CAAPA). A graduate of Morgan State University and the Maryland Opera Studio, Simmons is a member of the nation's first and largest music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America.

John Parr was born in Birmingham in 1955 and studied at Manchester University and at the Royal Northern College of Music with Sulamita Aronovsky. He won prizes as a solo pianist at international competitions in Barcelona and Vercelli and was a member of Yehudi Menuhin's "Live Music Now". From 1985 to 1988 he was a guest repetiteur at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and worked for the Scottish Opera in Glasgow from 1989 to 1991. He came to Germany in 1991 and was Head of Studies and Musical Assistant to the General Music Director in Hanover. In 2000, Pamela Rosenberg and Donald Runnicles brought him to San Francisco Opera as Head of Music Staff. From 2002 to 2005, he was musical assistant at the Bayreuth Festival. From 2011 to 2014, he was casting director and assistant to the general music director at the Staatstheater Karlsruhe. Since August 2014, John Parr has been working at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, initially as Head of Studies and since 2018 as Head Coach.