Wagner at the age of 29 returned from Paris, where he had signally failed to make the impression he desired, to an appointment in Dresden, where The Flying Dutchman, and then Tannhäuser, afforded him major recognition. It was a Germany full of intellectual ferment and political unrest, from which he was eventually forced into exile for his part in the Dresden uprising of 1849, in which he played an active role in manning the revolutionary barricades.
Tannhäuser perhaps tells us more about Wagner the man than any other of his operas: the sensualist, a man of huge energy and appetites, in conflict with the aspirer after religious purity. Tannhaüser is a man who cannot rest or settle: having experienced the pleasures of Venus he is rejected by his shocked compatriots, and it is only the spirited intervention of Elisabeth, who loves though she cannot understand him, that points him in the direction of salvation and forgiveness. The theme of the Pilgrims’ Chorus, with which the overture begins, reflects a sense of yearning that remains unresolved, and which still haunted Wagner at the very end of his life.
This production was conducted, directed and designed by the creative team behind our 2013 Ring Cycle, Anthony Negus, Alan Privett and Kjell Torriset.