Music and Libretto by Richard WagnerTANNHÄUSER lyrio opera

Conductor: Sir Andrew Davis

Stage Director: Tim Albery

Choreographer: Jasmin Vardimon

At the Lyric Opera of Chicago

Energetically sensual movement and dance introduces audiences to the world of Wagner’s morality drama/opera

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In one of the longest (at least 15 minutes) sensual dance sequences seen in any opera, choreographer Jasmin Vardimon has her men and woman running, swirling, and sliding (rolling actually) around a gigantic banquet table in a lust filled dance of pure sexuality to Wagner’s lush score. That breathtaking scene sets the tone for Wagner’s 4 hour and 20 minute struggle with good versus evil morality opera. Utilizing German myth, Christian dualities including sin and redemption, and community acceptance of  common beliefs, Wagner weaves a dramatically powerful opera that totally engages into his world.  This complex opera contains world-class singing, a stark minimalist set filled with memorable characters struggling with human wants versus religious beliefs versus social conformity. The power of religion and social pressure plays out as metaphorical fights with sin and redemption. Not seen since 1988 at the Lyric Opera, this Tannhauser contains elements of Wagner’s 1844 and his revised 1863 production.

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After we witness poet-singer Tannhauser (the empathetic and golden voiced tenor Johan Botha) enjoying the sensuality of the god Venus (mezzo-soprano Micheala Schuster) in her sex-filled Venusberg, he yearns to return to the normal world of Wartburg where he loves the pure Elizabeth (the sweet voiced soprano Amber Wagner).  Upon his return, Tannhauser is invited to participate in the Wartburg singing contest where the topic will be love, as he and others hope to win the approval of Elizabeth. The strange setting in Wartburg moves the opera into the 20th Century where the soldiers were dressed as Russian Revolution drab brown fighters complete with AK-47 rifles. I didn’t get why this was used.

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In a series of enthralling scenes with beautiful  music and powerful vocals, Tannhauser and his chief rival Wolfram (bass-baritone Gerald Finley) sing their of philosophy toward love to Elizabeth and the soldiers. This is where Tannhauser reveals his blasphemy that almost gets him killed by the fervent believers. Elizabeth, still loving Tannhauser, urges the soldiers to allow Tannhauser to repent for is sins through a pilgrimage to Rome.  We hear Elizabeth’s melancholy and her sadness at the world and at Tannhsuer’s refusal to repent. 

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Wagner’s complex score is in good hands with Sir Andrew Davis as he extracts all the subtly and dramatic nuances from Wagner’s musical genius. John Botha, Amber Wagner, and Gerald Finley lead this fantastic cast of Wagnerian singers.  Don’t let the anti-Wagner crowd keep you away form entering this captivating evening of pure music and singing  that will engulf you into the artistic world of opera that Wagner develops. The sheer beauty, the rich vocals,  and the sweeping grandeur of Wagner’s music are an experience you’ll not soon forget. Tannhauser is a grand opera that will totally enchant and satisfy music lovers. It is also a grand story. If you try Tannhauser, you’ll become a Wagnerian. That’s a good thing.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: February 9, 2015

For more info checkout the Tannhauser page at

At the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker, Chicago, IL, call (312) 419-0033,, tickets $39-$249,  running time is 4 hours, 20 minutes with 2 intermissions, through March 6, 2015