Review: Met's First TANNHAUSER of the Season Interrupted by Demonstrators

“The Show Must Go On,” Determined General Manager Gelb, with First-Rate Cast and Orchestra Under Runnicles’s Baton

By: Dec. 01, 2023
Review: Met's First TANNHAUSER of the Season Interrupted by Demonstrators

All that was missing were shouts of “food fight!” to turn last night’s performance of Richard Wagner’s TANNHAUSER—the first of the Met’s season—into a version of National Lampoon’s Night at the Opera. Climate activists interrupted the house debut of the great baritone Christian Gerhaher, and audience members traded barbs with the demonstrators, threatening the company’s determination that “the show must go on,” which General Manager Peter Gelb announced from the stage.

I guess no one from the group Extinction Rebellion—who staged the protest—had read Dales Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” before venturing into the Met, because they failed miserably on both counts, even among those who were sympathetic to start. (They unfurled a banner reading "No opera on a dead planet" from a Family Circle box at the top of the hall.)

While they didn’t totally sidetrack the performance, they did destroy the atmosphere. They sent many around me in the orchestra, who felt their evening ruined, scurrying for the exits during the forced pauses in Act II, as Met security guards escorted the protesters from the auditorium.

Nonetheless, those who stayed heard some great singing, under conductor Donald Runnicles sensitive baton and chorusmaster Donald Palumbo. Notably, there was baritone Gerhaher as Wolfram, who was a joy, but also tenor Andreas Schager as Tannhauser, soprano Elza van den Heever as Elisabeth, and mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova as Venus, among the large cast and chorus, in the 1977 Otto Schenk production (directed here by Stephen Pickover) with the classic Gunther Schneider-Siemmssen sets and Patricia Zipprodt’s often luxurious costumes. Norbert Vesak’s choreography added to the success of the Venusberg scene, which led to Tannhauser’s downfall.

Considering the distraction that the artists must have felt from the demonstrators, the evening proceeded rather smoothly, though I still feel uneasy producing a standard review of the performance.

I will, however, remember Gerhaher’s plaintive “O Du, Mein Holder Abendstern (Song of the Evening Star)”; van den Heever’s prayer for Tannhauser’s redemption, “Allmacht’ge Jungfrau”; and Schager’s almost bitter account of his trip to Rome, seeking but failing to get redemption, “Inbrunst im Herzen,” as well as the orchestral entry of the guests for Act II’s song contest.

Photo: Gerhaher (left, with harp) and Schager (on raised platform) in Act II.

Credit: Evan Zimmerman/Met Opera

The TANNHAUSER will be Sunday’s matinee at 2, followed by a brace of performances through December 23. For more information, see the Met’s website.

 




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