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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Movie Review: Meeting Venus

The comedy chronicling a particularly troubled production of Wagner's Tannhaüser was mostly ignored when it was released in 1991. At long last, Warner Archives has released it on DVD for the U.S. market.

Venus is the story of Hungarian conductor Zoltan Szanto, (Dutch actor Niels Arestrup) who has come to the "Opera Europa", a Paris-based international company "where you can be misunderstood in six different languages" to lead a new production of Tannhaüser.

Wagner's opera is the story of the medieval knight who is torn between his love for the saintly Elisabeth and his unearthly lust for the goddess Venus. As the married conductor begins an affair with his leading lady (played by Glenn Close and sung by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa), his personal life begins to mirror the complex world of Wagner's opera.

István Szantó's film captures the vibrant energy and backstage chaos of post-Communist Europe as the opera company's members try to overcome ego issues and language barriers to mount Tannhaüser. When a last-minute stagehands strike nearly kills the performance, the opera company's unique solution makes the entire film worth seeing.

At its heart, this is a movie about making music, and Meeting Venus includes some excellent excerpts from the opera, featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra led by Marek Janowski. The soundtrack includes the Pilgrim's Chorus, Elisabeth's "Dich, teurer Halle", and Wolfram's "Song to the Evening Star." Soloists include Rene Kollo (Tannhaüser), Waltraud Meier (Venus) and Håkan Hagegård (Wolfram.) Unfortunately, this cast only recorded highlights for the soundtrack and never got around to doing the entire opera.

Meeting Venus is released under the Warner Special Products label. The only way to get a copy is to order it direct from the studio, who will then manufacture the DVD and send it to you mail-order. It's not a perfect solution, but this underrated comedy is worth the effort for the opera lover.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.