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Tannhauser at the Los Angeles Opera

A pilgrimage to see an opera about pilgrimage

One of the major themes in Richard Wagner’s 1845 opera Tannhäuser is pilgrimage. With that in mind, I took a pilgrimage to LA Opera to see their current production of the show. (San Diego Opera has produced Tannhäuser twice in its 57-year history, most recently in 2008.) LA Opera presented a version that was well cast, well-executed, and well-conceived. The overall effect was overwhelming. All the big moments hit and hit hard. Maestro James Conlon and the orchestra were masterful. The chorus was robust yet reverent, with magnificent tuning and balance. The principal cast was more than sufficient.

Video:

Tannhauser: pilgrims' chorus

The staging got off to a shaky start. Tannhäuser enters during the prelude and wanders around the stage, as if this is his first time in the space. We find out later that he had been in the Venusberg, the mountain of erotic love, for longer than he can remember. So why is he exploring the space? He spies a grand piano downstage right and is slowly drawn to it. This type of movement is well-executed by dancers. But singers? Not so much. Arriving at the piano, Tannhäuser proceeds to... make love to it? This type of staging must be removed from opera, forever. It’s uncomfortable for the singer and for the audience. But after that unfortunate error, the rest of the opera proceeded naturally, with characters acting like human beings instead of vague representations of ill-conceived melodrama.

Among the secondary cast, two singers stood out. Tenor Robert Stahley was incredible. This is a singer to keep your eye on. The tone and quality of his voice imply that great things are to come. The other singer was bass Morris Robinson in the role of Hermann. Imagine the sound of a tree being split in half. Now imagine that sound being sustained from the top to the bottom of a massive voice. That’s Morris Robinson.

Video:

Morris Robinson on The Today Show

Sara Jakubiak performed the role of Elisabeth. She has a sizeable yet attractive voice, and that makes her perfect for the role. Interestingly, she struggled to produce a consistent tone in the lower register. She has more than enough voice, but appeared to be protecting the top of her range by under-singing the bottom.

The title role was performed by Issachah Savage. During the opening scene, I was impressed with the intelligence of his approach. The role of Tannhäuser is a task. Savage started the evening by coming off the voice a bit in the top of his range. It created a lyrical and pretty sound that was still ample for the house I completely understood that decision from a pacing point of view, and it also worked for the character and the setting.

I first heard Lucas Meacham in the role of Figaro in The Barber of Seville at San Diego Opera in 2012. He immediately became one of our favorite singers. In the role of Wolfram, he was nothing short of miraculous, with a tone that was both powerful and tender — as required by the role. There was no baritonal haze on the top of Meacham’s voice. It was crystal clear and thrilling.

Those terms, crystal clear and thrilling, can be applied to the entirely of the musical elements in this production. Maestro Conlon, the orchestra, the chorus, and principal cast gave the opera lovers of Southern California a gift with this performance. We are grateful.

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One of the major themes in Richard Wagner’s 1845 opera Tannhäuser is pilgrimage. With that in mind, I took a pilgrimage to LA Opera to see their current production of the show. (San Diego Opera has produced Tannhäuser twice in its 57-year history, most recently in 2008.) LA Opera presented a version that was well cast, well-executed, and well-conceived. The overall effect was overwhelming. All the big moments hit and hit hard. Maestro James Conlon and the orchestra were masterful. The chorus was robust yet reverent, with magnificent tuning and balance. The principal cast was more than sufficient.

Video:

Tannhauser: pilgrims' chorus

The staging got off to a shaky start. Tannhäuser enters during the prelude and wanders around the stage, as if this is his first time in the space. We find out later that he had been in the Venusberg, the mountain of erotic love, for longer than he can remember. So why is he exploring the space? He spies a grand piano downstage right and is slowly drawn to it. This type of movement is well-executed by dancers. But singers? Not so much. Arriving at the piano, Tannhäuser proceeds to... make love to it? This type of staging must be removed from opera, forever. It’s uncomfortable for the singer and for the audience. But after that unfortunate error, the rest of the opera proceeded naturally, with characters acting like human beings instead of vague representations of ill-conceived melodrama.

Among the secondary cast, two singers stood out. Tenor Robert Stahley was incredible. This is a singer to keep your eye on. The tone and quality of his voice imply that great things are to come. The other singer was bass Morris Robinson in the role of Hermann. Imagine the sound of a tree being split in half. Now imagine that sound being sustained from the top to the bottom of a massive voice. That’s Morris Robinson.

Video:

Morris Robinson on The Today Show

Sara Jakubiak performed the role of Elisabeth. She has a sizeable yet attractive voice, and that makes her perfect for the role. Interestingly, she struggled to produce a consistent tone in the lower register. She has more than enough voice, but appeared to be protecting the top of her range by under-singing the bottom.

The title role was performed by Issachah Savage. During the opening scene, I was impressed with the intelligence of his approach. The role of Tannhäuser is a task. Savage started the evening by coming off the voice a bit in the top of his range. It created a lyrical and pretty sound that was still ample for the house I completely understood that decision from a pacing point of view, and it also worked for the character and the setting.

I first heard Lucas Meacham in the role of Figaro in The Barber of Seville at San Diego Opera in 2012. He immediately became one of our favorite singers. In the role of Wolfram, he was nothing short of miraculous, with a tone that was both powerful and tender — as required by the role. There was no baritonal haze on the top of Meacham’s voice. It was crystal clear and thrilling.

Those terms, crystal clear and thrilling, can be applied to the entirely of the musical elements in this production. Maestro Conlon, the orchestra, the chorus, and principal cast gave the opera lovers of Southern California a gift with this performance. We are grateful.

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