Studio recording in stereo
April - June, 1988
Conductor: Giuseppe Sinopoli
Landgraf Hermann Matti Salminen
Tannhäuser Plácido Domingo
Wolfram Andreas Schmidt
Walther William Pell
Biterolf Kurt Rydl
Heinrich Clemens Bieber
Reinmar Oskar Hillebrant
Elisabeth Cheryl Studer
Venus Agnes Baltsa
Ein junger Hirt Barbara Bonney
Philharmonia Orchestra
Chorus of the Royal Operahouse, Covent Garden
Deutsche Grammophon, 427 625-2 3 CDs DDD
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Review by Marco Mazzocchi

This recording can be defined without doubt one of the Wagnerian recordings of the decade. Superbly conducted and wonderfully sung, it has achieved almost immediately the status of a classic. There is no doubt that Giuseppe Sinopoli is destined to be one of the leading figures on the Wagnerian scene in the future years.

Sinopoli conducts the excellent Philarmonia Orchestra in one of its most electrifying performances. The overture is held on a much slower tempo than we are used to hear, thus giving it an aura of sacrality that's for once appropriate and coherent with the fact that it's supposed to depict a pilgrim chorus and not some kind of festive celebratory march. After that we have the wonderful profanity of the Venusberg scene rendered with an equal mastery, a prodigious choice of timbric, rythmic, and dynamic balance, and a textual clarity that finally does justice to the new and elaborate musical parts that Wagner added only after he had composed Tristan. There are numerous moments when one is left to wonder why he had never realized the beauty of this work in the previous recording. I just want to quote here the whole act 2 and the sublime narrative of the 3rd act. We know that Tannhäuser is probably the least dramatically coherent of Wagner's work; especially in Act 2 the action is dispersed and the musical writing doesn't assure enough coherence. Well, here you don't notice it; the action has a fluidity that reminds one of the later music dramas of the Master. In the Act 3 narrative the fusion between Domingo's voice and Sinopoli's orchestra create something I had never heard before.

The cast is also very good with the possible exception of Agnes Baltsa, whose voice is maybe just a bit too cold for being the voice of the Goddess of Love. Plácido Domingo has his usual problems with German whose pronunciation rules continue to elude him, but his vocal line is nonetheless strong, firm and intense. The beauty of his voice, its stamina and allure create an excellent and convincing Tannhäuser. Cheryl Studer is a sublime Elisabeth, whose voice seems created to sing this kind of roles. Andreas Schmidt is a poetic Wolfram, singing a very beautiful "O du mein holder Abendstern", and Matti Salminen a robust Landgraf.

If this is not the definitive recording of Tannhäuser, it comes very close to it; and one is left to hope that DGG will show greater courage in the future and entrust Maestro Sinopoli with recordings of the mature masterpieces, too.