St Petersburg, Mariinsky II


opera by Richard Wagner

Performed in German (the performance will have synchronised Russian and English supertitles)



Valery Gergiev

Tannhäuser: Mikhail Vekua
Elisabeth: Elena Stikhina
Venus: Ekaterina Gubanova
Wolfram von Eschinbach: Roman Burdenko
Hermann: Yevgeny Nikitin
Walther von der Vogelweide: Stanislav Leontiev
Biterolf: Yefim Zavalny

World premiere: 19 October 1845, Königlich Sächsisches Hoftheater (Semperoper), Dresden
Premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre: 13 December 1874, Imperial Russian Opera Company (performed in Russian, translated by Konstantin Zvantsov)
Premiere of this production: 17 June 2021, Mariinsky II

Running time: 4 hours
The performance has two intervals

Age category 12+


Music by Richard Wagner
Libretto by the composer

Musical Director: Valery Gergiev
Stage Director: Vyacheslav Starodubtsev
Set Designer: Pyotr Okunev
Costume Designer: Zhanna Usacheva
Lighting Designer: Sergei Skornetsky
Video Designer: Vadim Dulenko
Stage Movement: Sergei Zakharin
Musical Preparation: Marina Mishuk
Principal Chorus Master: Konstantin Rylov


Inside the Hörselberg, where Venus' kingdom is to be found. Tannhäuser the knight and singer once found his way inside and became the beloved of the goddess of love herself. His life was filled with enjoyment. Having had his fill of all that, the knight has resolved to leave Venus and return to people. He is stifled in the rosy intoxication of Venus' kingdom, and once again he wishes to breathe fresh forest air and hear birds singing and bells ringing. In vain, the insulted goddess tries to restrain Tannhäuser: neither tenderness nor prayers nor curses can stop him. With the name of the Virgin Mary on his lips, the minnesinger leaves Venus' mansion and finds himself in the flowering valley near Wartburg Castle. With fondness he hears the song of a shepherd. A procession of pilgrims passes by, heading for Rome. In the distance the sounds of hunters' horns can be made out. The landgrave of Thuringia appears in the accompaniment of knights. There was a time when the haughty Tannhäuser left them. Now one of the knights, Tannhäuser's old friend Wolfram von Eschenbach, asks him to return to Wartburg and participate in a singing contest. Tannhäuser initially refuses, but on discovering that the landgrave's niece Elisabeth misses him he joins the knights.

In Wartburg, in the hall where the minnesinger knights are to compete in their art, Elisabeth's joyous call greets Tannhäuser. He arrives, accompanied by Wolfram. Elisabeth tells Tannhäuser about a new and unknown feeling that has come over her. The minnesinger rejoices: it is love! In delight, the lovers sing a hymn to the loftiest feeling of love. Wolfram is saddened, as his hopes for Elisabeth's heart have been shot down. The landgrave opens the competition and declares the theme of the contest: it is the essence of love. Wolfram sings the praises of pure loe, comparing it to a stream. Tannhäuser, who has only just returned from Venus' grotto, protests against his friend. The other knights – Walther von der Vogelweide and Biterolf – side with Wolfram. Incensed, Tannhäuser declares for all to hear that he has lived in Venus' grotto, and he sings of heartfelt love. All are perturbed. The women leave the hall and the knights seize their arms. Elisabeth saves the minnesinger from death; she forbids the knights to administer any punishment. The landgrave orders Tannhäuser to join the pilgrims and depart to see the Pope in order for his sins to be forgiven.

In the valley below Wartburg Elisabeth awaits his return. Wolfram looks at her in compassion. At last the pilgrims who have been in Rome appear, but Tannhäuser is not among them. Elisabeth calls out to the Virgin Mary for percy. She is prepared to die in order to save her beloved. Left alone, Wolfram greets the evening star. Tannhäuser appears. He is in despair: the Pope cursed the sinner, saying that his salvation is just as impossible as it is impossible for the Pope's crozier to be covered in green shoots. Spurned by everyone, the minnesinger hopes to find Venus once again, but the godess of love's charms no longer hold any power over him: Elisabeth's angelic soul has prayed for and been granted forgiveness for her beloved. By Elisabeth's grave, Tannhäuser dies. The pilgrims tell of a miracle that occurred in Rome: the Pope's crozier has blossomed.

Tannhäuser occupies a special position in the Mariinsky Theatre's Wagnerian stock: in just two years one and the same production team presented two totally different stage versions of this opera – one at the Concert Hall and another at the Mariinsky-II. Constant change and renewal have indeed been inherent in Tannhäuser since its inception: Wagner wrote it in 1845 and over the course of the rest of his life he returned to it many times – both due to external considerations to meet the requirements of various theatres and from inner convictions that compelled the maestro always to be refining and perfecting his creation. Versions followed one after another, though Wagner never did dot the final 'i' and cross the final 't' of his ideal Tannhäuser, declaring that in this regard he still "owed the world a debt".

At the Mariinsky Theatre it is the so-called Dresden version of the opera that is performed – it is thus named after the city where the world premiere took place. This means that one of Wagner's most vivid works – the fifteen-minute-long overture to Tannhäuser, a brilliant "synopsis" of the whole opera with a staggering acoustic catharsis at its end – is performed here in its entirety. the overture foretells the three acts in which the plot unfolds in typically unhurried Wagnerian fashion (each act lasts one hour), yet the tension never slackens for a moment. the philosophical composer loaded a tried and tested operatic and dramatic genre – the love triangle – with complex ethical and aesthetic problems. the points of the triangle depict archetypal images: the Artist, the Fornicatress and the Saint. the Artist yields his heart to first one and then the other beloved, and these struggles between two polar opposites, between the heights of logic and the depths of instincts, between the spirit and the flesh, all burst forth in his art. Any judgement of such art is merciless: passionate, free, out of control – in a word, revolutionary art is regarded by society that can think in no other way as intolerable and threatening. the universal nature of Wagner's ideas allowed the production team to abandon fairytale chivalrous romanticism and relocate the action in harsh contemporary reality, a reality that is not romantic at all: stuffy backstage intrigue, a congress of a totalitarian party sect, a run-down urban district with a public house... Visually, the production is crammed with allegories over which it is interesting to ponder, while the provocative associative context is addressed to the personal experiences of the audience. the new Tannhäuser at the Mariinsky Theatre is bold, challenging and musically magnificent, just like the legendary appearance of its protagonist at a jousting competition. Khristina Batyushina

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