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The Sunday Opera: Richard Wagner's "Tannhauser" from Bejing's National Center for the Performing Arts

We’re returning the the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing this week for Richard Wagner’s tale of the struggle between sacred and profane love on this week’s Sunday Opera (9/17 3:00 p.m.)

In the early 13th century, in Thuringen, Germany, Tannhauser (Endrik Wottrich) who is a knight and minstrel spends time with Venus who is the Goddess of lust but soon tires of it and leaves Venusberg. Back in the mortal world, a friend, Wolfram (Markus Werba), reminds him that Elisabeth (Barbara Haverman), who was Tannhauser’s lover, has been waiting for him for a long time.

In Wartburg castle, Hermann (Manfred Hemm) holds a singing contest and declares that the winner will be awarded the prize by his daughter, Elisabeth. Hermann gives challengers the subject of their song. It is “The Essence of Love.” Wolfram sings that the Essence of Love is Platonic, but Tannhauser sings that it is the pleasures of lust, and he praises Venus. The audience is appalled and insists he be banished. However, Elisabeth appeals to them; She asserts that she is the most deeply hurt. This results in Hermann ordering Tannhauser to visit the Pope in order to pay for what he has done. Several months pass, and Elisabeth continually looks for Tannhauser among the pilgrims from Rome. She cannot find him, and her prayers to the Virgin make her realize that she is soon to die. When Tannhauser does return, he tells Wolfram that his penitence was refused, so Tannhauser attempts to return to Venusberg, but Wolfram stops him. At that moment, the procession carrying Elizabeth’s coffin passes. The shock kills Tannhauser, but his soul is saved implying that it is brought about by Elizabeth’s death.

The other members of the company include Vincente Ombuena as Walter, Karsten Mewes as Biterolf, Kurt Azesberger as Heinrich, Rainer Zaun as Reinmar, and Zhang Xin as the Shepherd. Lu Jia conducts the NCPA Orchestra and Chorus.

We’ll turn from father to son after the opera for music by Siegfried Wagner to fill the afternoon.

We’ll begin with Siegfried’s 1915 Violin Concerto. This often maligned work is in one movement, and we’ll hear violinist Juraj Cizmarovic who is joined by the WDR Radio Orchestra, Koln, conducted by Marcus Bosch.

The final piece comes from a wonderfully bizarre opera entitled “Bruder Lustig.” This excerpt includes the overture, a waltz and “vision” from Act II, and the prelude to Act III performed by The Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra with Werner Andreas Albert conducting.

Michael is program host and host of the WWFM Sunday Opera, Sundays at 3 pm, and co-host of The Dress Circle, Sundays at 7 pm.
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