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As the Overture progressed, the knight touched down in the Venusberg the sunken recesses in the stage made it seem more a cleft than a mountain , and to the sound of the sparkling music associated with this forbidden kingdom of love, he cavorted with its inhabitants, languishing nymphs with obviously prosthetic bosoms. This dipped briefly out of sight, and on its return Peter Seiffert had replaced his much younger acting double. Thus even before a word was sung, much of the back-story of Tannhäuser had been conveyed through mime.
Act II began with rows of armour rising from the depths like the Terracotta Army; these eventually were suspended in the heights and remained a visually striking ornament for much of the rest of the production. The medieval approach was largely abandoned in Act III, with the stage instead dominated by rows of modern hospital beds. This was not the case: as it built up, the sick and injured rose and declaimed it with full-throated power, before they collapsed back as the sound faded out again.
In fact, the pilgrims were never pilgrims in this production: their earlier number in Act I was staged as if they were in the red flames of Hell or, more probably, Purgatory. Although not possessed of the biggest voice, she paced herself well throughout the demanding double sing. This led to an intriguing closing part of Act III, during which the dead Elisabeth remained on stage covered by a sheet, her hair having been loosened by the love-lorn Wolfram.
Seiffert is an old-hand at the demanding title role, and certainly took some time to warm-up: his opening recitative was distinctly ropey, and he only began to find his feet with the three-verse hymn to Venus.
Daringly, he kept the dynamic down throughout, instead conveying a range of feeling through nuances of colour and vibrato. Also in fine voice was Ain Anger, who was a resonant Landgraf Hermann.