- Richard Wagner. Grosse romantische Oper in three acts. 1845.
- Libretto by the composer.
- First performance at the Hoftheater, Dresden, on 19th October 1845.
|Herrmann, Landgrave of Thuringia ||bass|
|Tannhäuser, a Minnesinger ||tenor|
|Wolfram von Eschenbach, a Minnesinger ||baritone|
|Biterolf, a Minnesinger ||bass|
|Walther von der Vogelweide, a Minnesinger ||tenor|
|Heinrich der Schreiber, a Minnesinger ||tenor|
|Reinmar von Zweter, a Minnesinger ||bass|
|Elisabeth, niece of the Landgrave ||soprano|
|A Young Shepherd ||soprano|
|Four Pages ||soprano & alto|
Tannhäuser lies sleeping by the couch of Venus. Bacchantes revel, but Tannhäuser wakens with
a desire to return to the world, away from the sensual delights of the Venusberg. He is warned, but
puts his trust in Mary, the Mother of Christ, at whose name he finds himself by her shrine in a valley
near the Wartburg. He hears a shepherd singing a welcome to spring, sees pilgrims setting out for
Rome, and falls to his knees in repentance. He is urged by the Landgrave to join his hunting-party
and eventually persuaded when he hears that Elisabeth, the Landgrave's niece, is pining for him. At
the Wartburg he meets Elisabeth and they celebrate the power of love. The song contest on the
Wartburg brings conflict between Tannhäser and those who disapprove of the sensuous view of
love that he expresses. Elisabeth saves Tannhäser from the swords of the angry knights, who insist
he should join the pilgrims to Rome, in order to seek absolution. In Rome he finds no pardon, while
Elisabeth, accompanied by the knight and Minnesinger Wolfram, anxiously awaits his return,
praying to the Blessed Virgin for his salvation. Eventually, after the other pilgrims, Tannhäuser
returns. The Pope has cursed him, telling him that only when the papal crozier bursts into flower
will he ever be pardoned. Now Tannhäser seeks again the Venusberg. Wolfram restrains him by
the mention of the name of Elisabeth, whose body is now born towards them in funeral procession.
Tannhäser kneels by the side of the bier, praying for her intercession, at which young pilgrims are
seen returning, carrying the Pope's crozier, now miraculously blooming.
Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg (Tannhäuser and the Singing Contest on the
Wartburg) was Wagner's fifth opera and followed the staging in Dresden of Der fliegende
Holländer (The Flying Dutchman). In Dresden it was not fully understood, while staging in Paris in
1861, with an extended Bacchanale in the first act, to provide the element of ballet required by
French tradition, was an utter disaster. Elsewhere, however, the opera soon entered general
repertoire. Wagner continued with revisions to the work into the 1870s, but it is usual to distinguish
broadly between the Dresden and Paris versions. The opera opens with a prelude that makes use of
motifs associated with the pilgrims and with repentance, leading to the Venusberg music and, in the
Paris version, the Bacchanale. Tannhäuser, waking, sings his Hymn to Venus. Elisabeth's
greeting, Dich, teure Halle (O dear halls of song) comes in the second act, with its grand march for
the entry of the guests and the Landgrave's welcome. The Pilgrims' Chorus has appeared in a
variety of arrangements, while Wolfram's O du mein holder Abendstern (O star of eve) has suffered
a similar fate. The demanding rôle of Tannhäuser brings an account of his reception in Rome,
Inbrunst im Herzen (Contrite in heart), before the final lure of the Venusberg and his ultimate
attainment of forgiveness.