This chapter explicates how the opening Venusberg scenes of Wagner’s Tannhäuser allegorically anticipate the composer’s ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk,as well as its limitations. Both the Venusberg and Wagner’s Festspielhaus in Bayreuth are removed from civilization, elevated on a mountain, hermetically closed, artificially lit, and accessible only to the initiate. By micromanaging her grotto, Venus choreographs an overwhelming medial crescendo of the sort demanded by Wagner in “The Art-Work of the Future.” The Venusberg thus illustrates the desired stage appearance of Wagner’s ideals and how to realize it: Venus is Wagner’s total director. Parallels between Venus and Wagner are reinforced by their shared personal obsessions and underlined in recent productions of Tannhäuser. However, Wagner’s Tannhäuser flees the Venusberg, with his rejection of Venus’s magic (or technologies) presaging Nietzsche’s critique of Wagner’s total medial immersion. Wagner may have intimated the unattainability of his multimedia ideals from their inception.
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