Pia Maier Schriever & Sasha Waltz, Tannhäuser | © Bernd Uhlig

Pia Maier Schriever & Sasha Waltz, Tannhäuser

October 25, 2016

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Returns to the stage at Staatsoper im Schiller Theater, Berlin, DE, starting February 27, 2017

Tannhäuser is a romantic Opera in three acts by Richard Wagner, which builds on the traditional folk ballad Tannhauser and the Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg.  The Opera focuses on the dichotomy between sacred and profane love and redemption through love, a theme that runs through many of Wagner’s late works.

When the idea arose to bring the opera Tannhäuser on the stage in a new production  for the Easter Festtage festival in Berlin in 2014, Barenboim turned to Sasha Waltz with the request to take over the direction. Wagner presented Tannhäuser in Dresden in 1845, but then made a number of revisions of the opera throughout his life. When Wagner received the invitation for a performance of Tannhäuser at the Paris Opera in 1861, he introduced a ballet in the opera as per French custom, adding a bacchanale in the first Act. Barenboim took up this idea for the new staging adding a ballet to the otherwise intact Dresden version.

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For the first Act, Wagner’s stage directions state: “The interior of the Venusberg (the Hörselberg, near Eisenach). A wide grotto which, as it curves towards the right in the background, seems to be prolonged till the eye loses it in the distance. From an opening in the rocks, through which the daylight filters dimly, a greenish waterfall plunges down the whole height of the grotto, foaming wildly over the rocks; out of the basin that receives the water a brook flows to the further background; it there forms into a lake, in which Naiads are seen bathing, while Sirens recline on its banks. – On both sides of the grotto are projecting cliffs, of irregular form, covered with wonderful, coral-like tropical growths. In front of an opening in the grotto, stretching upwards to the left, through which comes a soft roseate half-light, Venus reclines in the foreground on a rich couch; before her, his head in her lap, his harp by his side, is Tannhäuser, half-kneeling. The Three Graces, charmingly entwined, recline about the couch. At the side of and behind the couch are numerous sleeping Cupids, huddled together in a confused tangle, like children who, tired after play, have fallen asleep. The whole of the foreground is illuminated from below, by a magical rosy light, through which the emerald-green of the waterfall and the white foam of its waves break in strong contrast. A clear blue vapor envelopes the far background, with the banks of the lake, in a kind of moonlight. When the curtain rises, the youths, holding goblets in their hands, are still reclining on the cliffs; now, in response to the alluring signs of the Nymphs, they hasten down to these; the Nymphs have already begun, round the foaming basin of the waterfall, the inviting dance that is meant to draw the youths to them. The two groups mix together in pairs; pursuits, flights and alluring coquetries enliven the dance. From the far background comes a swarm of Bacchantes, who break through the ranks of the amorous couples, inciting them to wilder delights. By gestures of exalted intoxication the Bacchantes urge on the lovers to further abandonment. The revellers embrace each other with the most ardent passion. Satyrs and Fauns emerge from the clefts in the rocks, and thrust themselves with their dance between the Bacchantes and the pairs of lovers. They increase the confusion by chasing the Nymphs; the general tumult rises to the maddest climax. At the outburst of the greatest delirium, the three Graces rise to their feet, horror-stricken. They try to restrain the furious groups and drive them off. Impotent against them, they fear that they themselves will be drawn into the whirl; they turn to the sleeping Cupids flutter upwards and in different directions like a flock of birds, and, drawn up as it were in battle array on the heights, and commanding the whole cavern, they rain down a ceaseless shower of arrows on the tumult beneath. The wounded, seized by a powerful yearning for love, quit the mad dance and sink down in exhaustion; the Graces take possession of the wounded, and try, by disposing the revellers in pairs, to disperse them with gentle force towards the background; there the Bacchantes, Fauns, Satyrs, Nymphs and Youths withdraw, pursued in by Cupids from the heights. A rosy mist comes down, growing thicker and thicker as it descends. In it the Cupids first disappear; then it envelops the whole background, so that finally, beside Venus and Tannhäuser, only the three Graces remain visible. These now return towards the foreground; gracefully interlocked they drawn near to Venus, and apparently tell her of the victory they have won over the mad passions of the subjects of her realm. Venus gives them a grateful glance. (The thick mist in the background dissolves, revealing a cloud-picture of the Rape of Europa; she is being carried across the blue sea on the back of the garlanded white bull, escorted by Tritons and Nereids)”

Pia Maier Schriever & Sasha Waltz, Tannhäuser | © Bernd Uhlig
Pia Maier Schriever & Sasha Waltz, Tannhäuser | © Bernd Uhlig

The Three Graces, charmingly entwined, recline about the couch. At the side of and behind the couch are numerous sleeping Cupids, huddled together in a confused tangle, like children who, tired after play, have fallen asleep. The whole of the foreground is illuminated from below, by a magical rosy light, through which the emerald-green of the waterfall and the white foam of its waves break in strong contrast. A clear blue vapor envelopes the far background, with the banks of the lake, in a kind of moonlight. When the curtain rises, the youths, holding goblets in their hands, are still reclining on the cliffs; now, in response to the alluring signs of the Nymphs, they hasten down to these; the Nymphs have already begun, round the foaming basin of the waterfall, the inviting dance that is meant to draw the youths to them. The two groups mix together in pairs; pursuits, flights and alluring coquetries enliven the dance. From the far background comes a swarm of Bacchantes, who break through the ranks of the amorous couples, inciting them to wilder delights. By gestures of exalted intoxication the Bacchantes urge on the lovers to further abandonment. The revellers embrace each other with the most ardent passion. Satyrs and Fauns emerge from the clefts in the rocks, and thrust themselves with their dance between the Bacchantes and the pairs of lovers. They increase the confusion by chasing the Nymphs; the general tumult rises to the maddest climax. At the outburst of the greatest delirium, the three Graces rise to their feet, horror-stricken. They try to restrain the furious groups and drive them off. Impotent against them, they fear that they themselves will be drawn into the whirl; they turn to the sleeping Cupids flutter upwards and in different directions like a flock of birds, and, drawn up as it were in battle array on the heights, and commanding the whole cavern, they rain down a ceaseless shower of arrows on the tumult beneath. The wounded, seized by a powerful yearning for love, quit the mad dance and sink down in exhaustion; the Graces take possession of the wounded, and try, by disposing the revellers in pairs, to disperse them with gentle force towards the background; there the Bacchantes, Fauns, Satyrs, Nymphs and Youths withdraw, pursued in by Cupids from the heights. A rosy mist comes down, growing thicker and thicker as it descends. In it the Cupids first disappear; then it envelops the whole background, so that finally, beside Venus and Tannhäuser, only the three Graces remain visible. These now return towards the foreground; gracefully interlocked they drawn near to Venus, and apparently tell her of the victory they have won over the mad passions of the subjects of her realm. Venus gives them a grateful glance. (The thick mist in the background dissolves, revealing a cloud-picture of the Rape of Europa; she is being carried across the blue sea on the back of the garlanded white bull, escorted by Tritons and Nereids)”

Sasha Alexandra Waltz was born in Karlsruhe, Germany. She is a choreographer, dancer, stage director and leader of the dance company Sasha Waltz and Guests.

Pia Maier Schriever was born in Stuttgart in 1972. She studied architecture at the Staatliche Akademie der Bildenden Künste Stuttgart and the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. She has worked as an architect in the offices of hg Merz Architects (Berlin), 1100 Architect (New York) and Sauerbruch Hutton Architects Berlin.
Since 2004 she has had her own Atelier for Architecture and Set Design in Berlin.
Pia Maier Schriever has been collaborating with Sasha Waltz for many years on stage installations for opera and dance productions including Roméo et Juliette in 2007 at the Opéra National de Paris/Opéra Bastille, Continu in 2010 at the Schauspielhaus Zurich, Matsukaze in 2011 at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels and in 2012-2013 at the Berliner Staatsoper as well as Roméo et Juliette in 2013 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. In 2013 Pia Maier Schriever received an artist’s scholarship from the Deutsche Akademie Villa Massimo in Rome.
Pia Maier Schriever lives and works in Rome and Berlin.

Pia Maier Schriever & Sasha Waltz – Tannhäuser (R. Wagner) – 2014
DirectionSasha Waltz
Set designPia Maier Schriever, Sasha Waltz
Costume designBernd Skodzig
Light designDavid Finn
Photo creditsBernd Ulig