The minstrel Tannhäuser is torn between the sensual love of the goddess
Venus, whom he rejects, and the spiritual love of Elisabeth, niece of
the local ruler. Tannhäuser had left the principality with harsh words
in his pursuit of Venus but is welcomed back. A song contest is held
before Elisabeth; the usual sentiments of chivalric love are expressed,
which drive Tannhäuser to proclaim the virtues of sexual love.
Horrified, the knights demand that he go to Rome to be forgiven for
having lived with Venus. Elisabeth loves Tannhäuser and prays for him
constantly. He returns from Rome, denounced by the Pope and seeking
Venus. The mention of Elisabeth’s name turns him around, however. She
has died, believing him lost; he dies, asking for her help. Pilgrims
hold aloft a flowering staff, a miracle demanded by the Pope before
Tannhäuser could be saved.
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