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Tannhäuser: a Wagner opera with a French accent


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Tannhäuser: a Wagner opera with a French accent

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Not everyone is aware that “Tannhäuser”, one of Wagner’s masterpieces, characterized by eternal themes such as ‘redemption’ and carnal love versus spiritual love, also had a French version.

In 1861, as Wagner was determined to conquer Paris, he agreed to have a libretto translated in French as well as a traditional ballet for his opera. It was an enormous flop.

And yet, still today, many wish to see that version of ‘Tannhäuser’. The Opera in Monte Carlo made that dream come true thanks to its Director General and his life-long wish to turn it into reality.

“What made me feel I should really do this “Tannhäuser” in the 1861 Paris Version of 1861? Quite simply my father. The French language contributes a totally different kind of poetry compared to German.

‘There’s a softness and a frailty that I do not feel is the same in the two languages. There’s also a sort of poetry that charmed those who saw the opera when it first opened, Baudelaire in particular. And actually Baudelaire has inspired me in staging this production,” explained Jean-Louis Grinda, General Director of Monte-Carlo Opera.

Nathalie Stutzmann revealed her reasons for accepting the role of conductor and the demands of it.

“I discussed it with the stage director, neither of us is afraid of a challenge: when he asked me to conduct this “Tannhäuser”, I said ‘yes’, that’s me. Then I found out the score weighed over 20 pounds and I said to myself: ‘you must be crazy!’. But what an extraordinary challenge!

‘I believe you grow through certain works of art, you get to a higher dimension. And when you work on pieces that are more like ‘marathons’, if I may say so, than a 100-metre race, your time management as a conductor is extremely important.

‘You really have to build the architecture of the evening time-wise; you have to know how to manage all the shifts in ‘tempo’, so many of them throughout the opera, and I’m talking hundreds.

‘So you relate to time in a totally different way, just like a long-distance runner versus a 100-metre sprinter relates to it. We really have to develop the architecture of the piece to its tiniest detail, and the amount we learn through that is enormous!”

Jean-Louis Grinda concluded: “Tannhäuser is an artist, an accursed artist… he could be today’s Mick Jagger, or any other controversial, hated, slagged off artist, but a charming one, one that you couldn’t help loving, and still criticising.

‘I do think that Richard Wagner himself was obsessed with Tannhäuser, because was he not, Tannhäuser himself, the criticised, ‘hateful’ artist?”

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