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Playing the Goddess in Tannhäuser

Playing the Goddess in Tannhäuser

by Sarah Sweeting on August 11, 2016 (August 11, 2016) filed under Classical Music | Opera | Comment Now

Sarah Sweeting on how she came to discover a more sensual, seductive expression of Venus.


Wagner’s operatic masterpiece, Tannhäuser, begins in the magical and erotic realm of the Venusberg, where the Goddess Venus resides. Here, love is celebrated freely and with wild abandon through all manner of sensual and sexual expression. Venus is discovered in the opening scene entwined around our central character, Tannhäuser, a man who comes from a world of chivalry, knighthood, religious order and a life of service to God. Essentially, Wagner’s opera is an epic tale of the inner torment and struggle of a man caught between these two worlds, each seemingly opposing the other, yet both being true expressions of the one powerful force: love. 

As a singer the role of Venus has its own challenges, not only is it musically and vocally tricky at times, but how is one meant to convey ‘The Goddess’? During rehearsals, our director Suzanne Chaundy called on me to bring a more earthy physicality to the role rather my somewhat ethereal interpretation. I believe that it was due to this collaboration, experimentation and continually examining my understanding of the character, what emerged was a more of a sensual and altogether seductive expression of Venus.

This journey for me became one of self-discovering and, in a way, empowerment. In the past I suffered from anxiety prior to every performance, but through taking time out from performing and working with some wonderful coaches, most recently, Raymond Lawrence, I now feel fearless. My self-belief and total trust in my technique has freed me to fully enjoy the magic of opening up and singing. As a result, performing the role of Venus is an absolute joy. 

In this Melbourne Opera cast I am so fortunate to be working alongside people who are not only brilliant, seasoned performers but also good friends. David Kramm leads the orchestra, Lee Abrahamsen sings the role of Elizabeth, Manfred Pohlenz is Wolfram, Eddie Mulliaumaseali’I performs the role of Herman and Jason Wasley, Roger Howell, Geoffrey Harris, Michael Lampard make up the rest of the Minnesingers.

The marvellous Marius Vlad has travelled all the way from Romania to play the role of the most famous of all the Minnesingers, Tannhäuser.

Christina Logan Bell, video designer Zoe Scoglio and lighting designer Lucy Birkinshaw have created the most amazing sets, performing near miracles with lighting and projection to transport everyone instantly to Venusberg and, aided by the wonderful costumes of Daniel Harvey, transform me into Venus.


A still of Zoe Scoglio's video design for Tannhäuser

Melbourne Opera's Artistic Director and CEO Greg Hocking, has assembled a formidable team for this production. We are now in the final week of rehearsals as the company takes up residence at the Regent Theatre for its first ever staging of Grand Opera. This magnificent and lavish theatre is the perfect venue for what to house this exciting and thoroughly involving epic drama.

Melbourne Opera’s production also marks the first time Wagner’s Tannhäuser has been staged in Melbourne since 1992. It opens Sunday August 14 at the Regent Theatre with other performances on August 17 and 20, as well as August 28 at Monash University’s Robert Blackwood Hall.

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International opera singer Sarah Sweeting possesses an extensive repertoire of both musicals and opera, which have been performed with some of the world’s leading opera companies across the UK, France, Ireland, Germany, Asia, Barbados, Australia and China, over the past 20 years.