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[Image:Moving Theatre logo]Tannhäuser

A Wagnerian farce of the future with music of the past and staging of the present in 3 Acts
By Johann Nestroy
Premiere: 31st October 1857

Funded by

Arts council of England

Austrian Cultural Forum

Purzel, a medieval Landgraf (Duke) and lover of music (originally played by Nestroy)
Elisabeth, his niece
Venus, proprietor of a a basement delicatessen
Tannhäuser Heinrich,
Wolfram Dreschenbach,
Walter Finkenschlag,
Taubenklee Fridolin, members of the choral society
Katafalker, a bringer of bad news
A shepherd
Nymphs, hunters, singers, cortege bearers, servants

Scene: The action takes place in several centuries simultaneously.

Act 1. Tannhäuser is being entertained by Venus in her underworld love nest. - [Duet Tannhäuser/Venus] – He hears the pealing of bells, which he believes are summoning him back up to earth. Venus begs him to stay and swears undying love but Tannhäuser dashes off, leaving Venus angry and depressed. – [Song, Venus: “I must be losing my touch”] - She puts a curse on him for spurning her. From now on he is doomed to destroy the person he loves. – [Chorus of nymphs] - Tannhäuser is found by a shepherd – [Romance, Shepherd] - and is delighted to be back on earth, especially when he suddenly remembers that he is in love with the Landgraf’s niece Elisabeth. – [Aria, Tannhäuser] - He wonders how to approach her. He particularly wishes he could change out of the clothes he had on with Venus but, alas, he has nothing else to wear. – [Hunters’ chorus] – Tannhäuser meets Landgraf Purzel’s hunting party and the Landgraf embraces him, glad that he has returned and amused that he is reluctant to say where he has been all this time. The Landgraf, who prides himself on his taste in music, has temporarily banished the Choral Society because their singing isn’t up to scratch. But a Singing Competition has been arranged and Walter urges Tannhäuser to compete. – [Quintet Wolfram, Walter, Fridolin, Purzel, Tannhäuser]

Act 2. [Aria, Elisabeth] – Tannhäuser meets Elisabeth in secret while Wolfram stands guard, an ironic situation as Wolfram is in love with her himself. But Tannhäuser assures him: “I cannot encompass all of her. I’m sure there’ll be something left for you.” Tannhäuser declares his love and Elisabeth doesn’t reject him. – At the Singing Competition the theme is love, and Purzel promises the hand of his niece to the winner. – [Chorus and various arias] - Figures appear from various operas and the spectators include animated playing cards. Tannhäuser’s entry for the competition is a song about his visit to Venus. When she hears it Elisabeth faints. An angry Purzel disqualifies Tannhäuser from the competition. He is sent into exile with the Choral Society, whose singing is not up to scratch again, and told he may return only when he has lost his voice.

Act 3. Elisabeth is in distress, because the Choral Society has returned without Tannhäuser. She tells Wolfram, who is still madly in love with her: “Adieu, farewell, and wait a bit. I shall return to you anon, deceased.” – [Aria, Wolfram] – Purzel, in tears, reports that Elisabeth has “moaned herself to death”. Wolfram sees a drunken Tannhäuser approaching. He has sung in opera after opera but still hasn’t managed to lose his voice. He thinks he has suffered enough and wishes to return to Venus. As Wolfram tries to prevent him descending to the underworld, Elisabeth’s cortege passes, and Wolfram tells Tannhäuser how Elisabeth died. A distraught Tannhäuser throws himself on Elisabeth’s coffin. – [Chorus of mourners] –Purzel sees Tannhäuser and tries to kill him. Wolfram intervenes, but Tannhäuser dies of remorse. – [Chorus of mourners] – A grieving Purzel mourns both the deceased. Venus appears and offers to bring them both back to life, on one condition: that as husband and wife they will never argue. Purzel is sceptical: “A harmonious marriage? Does such a thing exist?” – [Chorus of mourners]


The Plays of Johann Nestroy. A directory of synopses prepared by Julian Forsyth & Zoe Svenson.
Funded by the Austrian Cultural Forum and Arts Council England. © Moving Theatre 2004