Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sunday Classics: Finally we reach Act III of "Tannhäuser"


Daniel Barenboim conducts the Staatskapelle Berlin in the Prelude to Act III of Tannhäuser (from their June 2001 Teldec recording of the complete opera, from which we've heard a number of excerpts earlier in this series). Don't we always try to listen to the way our "target" material starts? Tip: The portion of this prelude that particularly concerns us begins about 5:37. [audio link]

"The heart wants what it wants." -- Woody Allen

by Ken

After our dalliance in the Song Contest of Act II of Tannhäuser and our circle-back to the second scene of Act I, you were probably thinking -- or maybe just hoping -- we would never make it to Act III. Nevertheless, here we are. In fact, in Friday night's preview we not only made it to Wolfram von Eschenbach's Evening Star song but heard the whole of our work unit today: from the Act III Prelude up to the unexpected return of Tannhäuser from his pilgrimage to Rome seeking absolution from the Pope for his naughty behavior.

When the Act III curtain rises, we're back in the setting we first saw when Tannhäuser chose to bail out of the Venusberg in Act I: the mountain-and-valley landscape in Thuringia where the Shepherd waved the pilgrims off in the springtime on their long trans-Alpine trek to Rome to seek absolution from the Pope. Subsequently we heard Tannhäuser being reunited with his friend Wolfram von Eschenbach and the rest of his fellow Minnesingers. It's fall now, and Wolfram is watching over Elisabeth, who is maintaining a vigil for the pilgrims' return, hoping that Tannhäuser will be among them.

As I mentioned in Friday's preview, when he was one of the baritones we heard singing the Evening Star romance, among our Wolframs today we have a "new" one, the lovely lyric baritone Gerhard Hüsch, and we're putting him to work right away. In this very gradual performance, it's especially easy to spotlight two phrases: "Dies ist ihr Frage" (around 2:32) and "Ihr Heil'gen, lasst erfüllt es sehen" (2:47).

WAGNER: Tannhäuser and the Song Contest at the Wartburg: Act III, Wolfram, "Wohl wusst' ich hier sie im Gebet zu finden"
I knew well I would find her here in prayer,
as I so often find her when, down from
the wooded heights, I stray in the valley alone.
The death he dealt her buried deep
in her heart in searing smart,
she prays for his salvation day and night --
oh, eternal might of holy love!
She awaits the return of the pilgrims from Rome.
The leaves are falling already; their return is imminent.
Will he come back with the pardoned?
[2:32] This is her question, this is her prayer.
[2:47] You saints in heaven, may she see it consummated!
Though the wound remain unhealed,
oh, that relief, at least, might be granted her!
Gerhard Hüsch (b), Wolfram von Eschenbach; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Hans Udo Müller, cond. EMI, recorded August 1936 [audio link]



Part 1: What if Wagner had called it Wolfram von Eschenbach and the Song Contest at the Wartburg?
Act II and the Song Contest
"Sneak" preview and main post

Part 2: Continuing our look at Tannhäuser from the vantage point of Wolfram von Eschenbach --
Circling back to Act I
Preview and main post

Part 3: Finally we reach Act III --
Wolfram's vigil over Elisabeth
Preview and main post

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