Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Shower Off Your Sins at "Tannhauser"
A new production of Wagner's early (1845) opera, "Tannhauser," opened at the San Francisco Opera on Tuesday evening, directed by the acclaimed British genius Graham Vick and choreographed by Ron Howell (pictured above).
For the last month, I've been rehearsing a ten-minute scene at the end of Act One with six other supernumeraries (Alan Goes is pictured above). We've been working with six principal singers, including the great German tenor Peter Seiffert as the tormented knight Tannhauser, while carrying a dead wolf around my neck, and dodging a live horse who has been getting spooked onstage. Tonight it all went off brilliantly.
For those worried that David Gockley, the new General Director, would be taking the company back to the literal, dumb days of Lotfi Mansouri while scorning the European subtext style of Pamela Rosenberg, this production should be a corrective as it is both daring and bizarre.
In this version, the famous Pilgrims Chorus is sung by mostly shirtless male choristers with various "sins" carved into their torsos in blood.
The first dress rehearsal was extremely amusing watching the chorus lined up in the basement makeup room while they were handed out personal sins that ranged from "LAZY" to "DRUNK" to "RAPIST." Then the two young gentlemen above would make sure everyone's hands and feet...
...looked perfectly filthy.
In the men's chorus dressing room area, there was a hilarious, unironic bit of signage advising them, "Please let us know if you are planning to shower off your sins after Act I, so that we can supply you with a shower cap..."
I have no idea how the production worked from the audience's point of view, and it's impossible to be even remotely objective when you're backstage in a costume, but the finale at the end of four hours struck me as an absolutely amazing coup de theatre, and musically it couldn't have been more exquisite. The spontaneous applause for Graham Vick, the director, from the entire cast at the curtain call was unusual and heartfelt.