Before purchasing this blu-ray I checked the production on youtube. My impression was of an extremely dull production superbly sung. I decided to give it a try hoping that in context the production may prove more interesting. It turns out that what you see on youtube is what you get. This staging aggressively reroutes the accepted narrative and as a result the Regie constantly fights the text. It's one thing to update a work and another thing altogether so supplant it with a different theme. Tannhäuser has a religious theme involving temptation, sin and redemption. Even though the boundaries of temptation and sin have changed since Wagner's time, the central theme is still relevant to many people. Most people in the world, including Europeans believe in God or can relate to these themes even if church attendance is declining in some countries. However, it is practically impossible to find Theaterregisseurs who would dare to profess any religious sensitivity; their professional community is not open to that. So we have the characters of this work sing a text that is constantly at odds with the supplanted plot and its incongruent theme and ambiance. For example, when Tannhäuser warns Wolfram grandly at the beginning of his Rome narration "Bleib fern von mir! Die Stätte, wo ich raste, ist verflucht" the text comes across as over the top and out of synch with the context, and this goes on like that for over 3 hours. On top of that I found the production boring. I fell asleep in act I several times. I watched act II several days later, adequately refreshed and managed to stay awake, but I noticed that the big arc of the conflicts falls flat - there is little dramatic tension. When I reached act III I've had enough - I turned the TV off, grabbed the libretto and enjoyed the performance as an audio recording.
The cast is first rate. With Tannhäuser the main concern is if the tenor will even make it to the end in one piece. It's amazing to think that Seiffert has been singing at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin (and elsewhere) since the 80's! He has a gorgeous tone, enviable stamina, open-throated secure delivery, true Wagnerian heft, and a long breath that allows for wonderful legato with clear projection and enunciation and near perfect intonation. He easily towers over the ensembles. This is not just a god-given talent (which it is) - he has the technique to deliver: the voice is well supported, the portrayal commanding, even breathtaking and the passions are aching and sincere. Seiffert's wife, soprano Petra Maria Schnitzer is in the same league, with a powerful, secure, creamy and radiant voice. Beatrice Uria-Monzon's Venus is the sexiest I've heard! Günther Groissböck's Hermann and all the minnesänger are first rate. Liceu principal conductor Sebastian Weigle's reading is dependable and well paced but routine. The chorus were truly involved and worked hard. The sound design of the recording tames the climaxes. Wagner's choral and ensemble climaxes are really loud in Lohengrin, Meistersinger and in this work, a wall of sound. They can be thrilling in the theater but at home their effect depends on your playback setup and the size of the room. I missed the energy of the climaxes but this approach has its pluses. The balance favors the singers and the orchestra is not particularly well recorded (it's a little on the thin side), but this may reflect actual acoustic of the performance as the sets always provide large sound reflecting surfaces and are not open to the back of the stage. The Liceu has a gorgeous lively acoustic but no commercial recording that I know of has ever captured it adequately (souvenirs from the audience have, though...) The lighting in acts I and III is dark, which enhances the soporiphic effect (snooze...)