Tannhäuser - Synopsis

Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser Richard Wagner: Tannhäuser


Richard Wagner


Act One

Tannhäuser, a member of the Minnesinger minstrels attached to the court of the Landgrave Hermann, had become disenchanted with this society and its rigid artistic ideals. For this reason he had left this familiar circle to seek refuge in a visionary world which enabled him to gain access to the Venusberg: the realm of the goddess Venus who has become his muse. Howeber, his dream of eternal love and artistic inspiration turns into a nightmare from which he has to escape. He struggles to free himself from the enticements of Venus. Only by turning to the Virgin Mary is he able to escape from the realm of Venus.

Tannhäuser finds himself once more in the human world. A young shepherd sings in praise of spring awakening. Pilgrims travelling to Rome pass by. Tannhäuser joins in their prayers and is discovered by Landgrave Hermann and the Minnesingers. Wolfram von Eschenbach recognises his long lost friend. Tannhäuser evades the question of where he has been for so long and desires to move on. When Wolfram mentions the name of Elisabeth, the Landgrave's niece, and tells how deeply impressed she is by Tannhäuser's songs, Tannhäuser decides to return. He wants to see Elisabeth.


Act Two

Elisabeth greets the hall of the singers. She has not entered it since Tannhäuser's disappearance. When Tannhäuser enters, she can scarcely conceal her feelings for him. He too admits that the thought of her was the only thing that caused him to return. The Landgrave is pleased to find his niece in the hall. He suspects why she has returned again after such a long absence. The Landgrave greets the guests who have come to witness the Minnesingers' song contest. As a topic for the singers he poses the problem "to fathom the essence of love". Wolfram, Walther von der Vogelweide and Biterolf sing in praise of pure and idealized love. Tannhäuser, on the other hand, names sensual pleasure as being the true essence of love. He allows himself to be carried away by his passion and invokes the goddess of love herself. The assembled guests are shocked and want to kill Tannhäuser. But Elisabeth, although herself deeply offended by Tannhäuser's outburst, intervenes and places herself before him. The Landgrave pronounces his judgement: Tannhäuser is to be banished; he is to join the pilgrims going to Rome and must beg the Pope for forgiveness.


Act Three

Elisabeth is awaiting Tannhäuser's return. The pilgrims return from Rome, but Tannhäuser is not among them. Elisabeth implores the Virgin Mary to take her life as expiation for his sins. Wolfram has been watching her. In his song to the evening star he sings of her impending death. Tannhäuser appears and tells Wolfram of his sufferings on the pilgrimage to Rome and that the Pope refused to pardon him as he had hoped. He has no other choice but to once again seek refuge in the Venusberg. By invoking the power of Elisabeth's name, Wolfram is able to break the goddess's spell. A procession aprroaches with Elisabeth's dead body. Her death is Tannhäuser's redemption. Young pilgrims returning from Rome announce that Tannhäuser has gained absolution: the Pope's staff has put forth fresh green leaves. Tannhäuser dies.

Translation: Christopher Balme
© Bavarian State Opera