Opera Scotland

Tannhäuser 2016Edinburgh Players Opera Group

Read more about the opera Tannhäuser

For some years, the Edinburgh Players Opera Group (EPOG), have come together over the course of a single weekend in Edinburgh to rehearse and 'perform' the operas of Richard Wagner. Thay form an enthusiastic group of professional, semi-professional and talented amateur musicians, supporting a cast of adventurous professional singers. Many are regulars and there are always a few from overseas. 

This year EPOG tackled Tannhäuser for the first time, with sessions running from Friday 23 to Sunday 25 September in Portobello Town Hall, in the east end of Edinburgh. The event was dedicated to the memory of Philip Taylor, the group's co-founder, who had provided much of the inspiration, and had led the orchestra for the first dozen years.

The final play-through was sung in German - almost unbelievably, for the first time in Scotland. A second aspect that was perhaps unfamiliar was the choice of the revised, more elaborate 'Paris' version of 1861 with its extended ballet music. All the companies that toured the work so often in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries invariably chose the original (shorter and simpler) 1845 Dresden edition. As usual, the Sunday session was open to family, friends and other enthusiasts, with a donation of £15 requested to help cover the costs of the enterprise.

The overwhelming sensation for the spectator is one of awe that such a short rehearsal period can result in such an enjoyable afternoon, for both participants and observers. The band consisted of 65 players, so the climaxes were inevitably loud. More impressive, perhaps, was the subtlety with which the quieter passages were executed. Mike Thorne paced the work with an expert hand, and the band built up a fair head of steam in the second act.

Unlike some Wagner works, Tannhäuser has an extremely prominent role for a chorus, playing pilgrims in the first and last acts, and courtiers in the song contest of Act 2. For this occasion, students at the Conservatoire in Glasgow were given their first exposure to singing Wagner. With only a few days to master the music and the language, the massed ranks (OK, a dozen) did very well. They produced plenty of mellifluous tone as pilgrims and only revealed a handful of points where dodgy intonation showed they were clearly winging it.

The soloists were a judicious mixture of regulars and newcomers. Jonathan Finney has worked his way through a range of the heroic tenor roles over the past decade or so, and the title role must have been the greatest challenge yet. It is a long part that seems to lie consistently higher than the others. If he began to show signs of fatigue during the second act climax, he recovered to deliver a hugely impressive, largely lyrical, account of the Rome Narration. Other singers with long experience with EPOG included Gerard Delrez, most recently heard as Baron Ochs, as well as Colin Heggie and James Hancock. Cara McHardy and Lise Christensen had each appeared only once before. Their performances of Elisabeth and Venus were confidently voiced and utterly fearless, with voices developing nicely. Michael Bracegirdle was strong casting as Walther. The two newcomers were highly impressive - treble Sam Bell as the Shepherd Boy and Andrew Greenan, a beautifully resonant bass, as the majestic Landgrave. Perhaps the most satisfying performance of all was that of the Wolfram. Arthur Bruce was not in the cast originally announced, but his vital solos in each of the three acts, climaxing with 'O Star of Eve', were undoubted highlights of this memorable afternoon.

The choice for next year's opera is still to be confirmed, but the sessions will take place over 22-24 September. EPOG are always looking for talented players, particularly strings. If you are interested in joining in this inspiring endeavour, please see details on the contact page. Their website is at www.epogwagner.org

Performance Cast

Venus

Lise Christensen

Tannhäuser a knight and minnesinger

Jonathan Finney

Shepherd boy

Sam Bell

Wolfram von Eschenbach a knight and minnesinger

Arthur Bruce

Hermann Landgrave of Thuringia

Andrew Greenan

Walther von der Vogelweide a knight and minnesinger

Michael Bracegirdle

Heinrich der Schreiber a knight and minnesinger

James Hancock

Biterolf a knight and minnesinger

Gerard Delrez

Reinmar von Zweter a knight and minnesinger

Colin Heggie

Elisabeth niece of the Landgrave

Cara McHardy

Performance DatesTannhäuser 2016

Map List

Town Hall, Portobello | Edinburgh

25 Sep, 00.00

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