Review by Willard Manus

Los Angeles Opera followed up MAHAGONNY with a controversial production of Richard Wagner's TANNHAUSER, which raised temperatures--and some hackles--with its graphic portrayal of Venusberg, the pagan valhalla where Tannhauser discovers a bacchanale in full swing. Near-nude bodies couple (and triple) in lurid red light, writhing and grinding in time to the music. As directed by Ian Judge, Venusberg becomes a 19th century "gentleman's club," replete with all kinds of simulated and kinky sex. Call it Tannhauser in Pornoland.

Repelled by this scene, Tannhauser (sung movingly by Peter Seiffert) rejects the blandishments of Venus (a somewhat pinched Lioba Braun) and returns to the castle of Wartburg, where he struggles to surmount the temptations of fleshly love and find peace and happiness in the spiritual realm. His guide and inspiration, the virginal Elisabeth (the superb Petra Maria Schnitzer) eventually sacrifices her life in order to "redeem" him from his sinful desires. She dies in order that he may live.

Mixing mythology and history, paganism and Christianity, TANNHAUSER tells an odd, strained, chauvinistic tale, but like Tannhauser himself the opera finds redemption in Wagner's music, which resounds throughout with transcendent beauty and power.

James Conlon conducted with sensitivity and vigor, bringing the best out of the orchestra and singers. Besides the performers noted above, Martin Gantner made a vivid impression as Wolfram, ditto Rodrick Dixon as Walther and Franz Josef Selig as Heinrich.

The near-overpowering sets and costumes were by Gottfried Pilz; William Vendice headed the hyper-active--but effective--chorus.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call (213) 972-8001 or visit laopera.com.