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Chaundy’s Tannhauser for Melbourne Opera a triumph
Melbourne Opera set itself an enormous challenge in staging one of Wagner’s grand romantic operas, Tannhauser, for a debut opera season at the Regent Theatre. The company, which does not receive a government subsidy, chose an opera requiring 14 named singers, a chorus of more than 50, a large orchestra, and a complex production design.
Suzanne Chaundy, a regular Melbourne Opera director, delivered her finest achievement in this production. It had focus, pace and was of compelling quality.
Chaundy’s approach to Tannhauser embodied Wagner’s famous concept ofgesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art. By combining different media including video in a single work, Chaundy’s production compressed and heightened each element in a single totality.
Conductor David Kram’s musical delivery affirmed a lifetime’s love of Wagner’s operas, nurtured by his father, who was a Covent Garden repetiteur in the 1930s. His musical direction was powerful and nuanced, and he had a keen sense of the theatricality of great moments in the opera, such as when the guests arrive at the Wartburg Hall of Song. He focused the heraldic entrance fanfares by having his ensemble of fine brass players stand as they played.
Leading Romanian tenor Marius Vlad in the title role sang beautifully and his compelling performance was alive to the extreme contradictions of Tannhauser’s character.
Lee Abrahmsen, so memorable as Konstanze in MO’s recent Abduction from the Seraglio, was a radiant Princess Elisabeth. Her fevered, ecstatic greeting to the Hall of Song, Dich, teure Halle, was a highlight of the evening.
Sarah Sweeting was magnetically persuasive as Venus, the goddess of love. Melbourne Opera regular Manfred Pohlenz as Wolfram delighted the audience with his delivery of the celebrated baritone aria O du, mein holder Abendstern, the Hymn to the Evening Star.
Eddie Muliaumaseali’i was a powerful and dignified voice and presence as Hermann, Landgrave of Thuringia.
Christina Logan-Bell designed the simple, effective set, and Zoe Scoglio’s superb video design brought exterior and interior settings to glorious life and delivered a scale of staging unimaginable in traditional productions. Daniel Harvey’s handsome costume designs brought an excellent continuity to the staging and Lucy Birkinshaw’s lighting was thoughtfully delivered.
Reviewer: Peter Burch