Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Saint Cecilia: The Sixteen at Kings Place

There were eighteen rather than sixteen singers. And, though the concert was entitled Saint Cecilia the repertoire paid homage more emphatically to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and to the spirit of Christmas.

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Insights on Mahler Lieder, Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen

At the Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide in a recital of Schubert and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Rückert-Lieder. Schuen has most definitely arrived, at least among the long-term cognoscenti at the Wigmore Hall who appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity that marks true Lieder interpretation.

Ermelinda by San Francisco's Ars Minerva

It’s an opera by Vicentino composer Domenico Freschi that premiered in 1681 at the country home of the son of the doge of Venice. Villa Contarini is a couple of hours on horseback from Vicenza, and a few hours by gondola from Venice).

Wozzeck in Munich

It would be an extraordinary, even an unimaginable Wozzeck that failed to move, to chill one to the bone. This was certainly no such Wozzeck; Marie’s reading from the Bible, Wozzeck’s demise, the final scene with their son and the other children: all brought that particular Wozzeck combination of tears and horror.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

Korngold's Die tote Stadt in Munich

I approached this evening as something of a sceptic regarding work and director. My sole prior encounter with Simon Stone’s work had not been, to put it mildly, a happy one. Nor do I count myself a subscriber or even affiliate to the Korngold fan club, considerable in number and still more considerable in fervency.

Exceptional song recital from Hurn Court Opera at Salisbury Arts Centre

Thanks to the enterprise and vision of Lynton Atkinson - Artistic Director of Dorset-based Hurn Court Opera - two promising young singers on the threshold of glittering careers gave an outstanding recital at Salisbury’s prestigious Art Centre.

Lohengrin in Munich

An exceptional Lohengrin, this. I had better explain. Yes, it was exceptional in the quality of much of the singing, especially the two principal female roles, yet also in luxury casting such as Martin Gantner as the King’s Herald.

Hansel and Gretel in San Francisco

This Grimm’s fairytale in its operatic version found its way onto the War Memorial stage in the guise of a new “family friendly” production first seen last holiday season at London’s Royal Opera House.

An hypnotic Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House

Spot-lit in the prevailing darkness, Gustav von Aschenbach frowns restively as he picks up an hour-glass from a desk strewn with literary paraphernalia, objects d’art, time-pieces and a pair of tall candles in silver holders - by the light of which, so Thomas Mann tells us in his novella Death in Venice, the elderly writer ‘would offer up to art, for two or three ardently conscientious morning hours, the strength he had garnered during sleep’.

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

Sarah Wegener sings Strauss and Jurowski’s shattering Mahler

A little under a month ago, I reflected on Vladimir Jurowski’s tempi in Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. That willingness to range between extremes, often within the same work, was a very striking feature of this second concert, which also fielded a Mahler symphony - this time the Fifth. But we also had a Wagner prelude and Strauss songs to leave some of us scratching our heads.

Manon Lescaut in San Francisco

Of the San Francisco Opera Manon Lescauts (in past seasons Leontyne Price, Mirella Freni, Karita Mattila among others, all in their full maturity) the latest is Armenian born Parisian finished soprano Lianna Haroutounian in her role debut. And Mme. Haroutounian is surely the finest of them all.

A lukewarm performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette from the LSO and Tilson Thomas

A double celebration was the occasion for a packed house at the Barbican: the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s fifty-year association with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Scene from Lohengrin [Photo by W. Hösl courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper]
20 Jul 2009

Munich's Re-constructed Lohengrin

Were someone looking to assemble a musical Dream Team to thrill us to the core with Wagner’s Lohengrin, one would need look no further than the assembled forces currently on stage at Munich's Bavarian State Opera.

Richard Wagner: Lohengrin

Heinrich der Vogler: Christof Fischesser; Lohengrin: Jonas Kaufmann; Elsa von Brabant: Anja Harteros; Friedrich von Telramund: Wolfgang Koch; Ortrud: Michaela Schuster; Heerrufer des Königs: Evgeny Nikitin; Edler 1 / Brabantischer Edle: Francesco Petrozzi; Edler 2 / Brabantischer Edle: Kenneth Roberson; Edler 3 / Brabantischer Edle: Christopher Magiera; Edler 4 / Brabantischer Edle: Igor Bakan; 4 Edelknaben: Tölzer Knabenchor. Bayerisches Staatsorchester. Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper. Musikalische Leitung: Kent Nagano. Inszenierung: Richard Jones. Bühne und Kostüme: Ultz; Licht: Mimi Jordan Sherin. Chöre: Andrés Máspero.

Above: Scene from Lohengrin

All photos by W. Hösl courtesy of Bayerische Staatsoper

 

Interest was extremely high, of course, in local boy Jonas Kaufmann’s first take on the title role. We were amply rewarded. For Mr. Kaufmann has it all, the mettle and the metal, starting with a robust, baritonal timbre in mid and low-range that loses none of its buzz as he ascends above the staff. His sound technique and focused tone allow him to not only ride the full orchestra as required, but also to scale back to intense, melting piano singing that lovingly caresses the more tender and introspective moments. If In fernem Land had been any more hushed or unearthly beautiful, my heart would likely have stopped. Magnificent.

Add to this, the fact that Jonas is strappingly handsome, eminently stage-wise, and always engaged with his colleagues, and you begin to know that this is a major star in a major step forward in his career (although maybe he should resist doing the part in a house larger than the Staatsoper until he sees how it wears on him). You can also understand why savvy record promoters would perch him atop a mist shrouded summit, Caspar-David-Friedrich-like on the cover photo of his new CD release and declare him “Germany’s most beautiful voice.” The partisan Munich crowd who loudly celebrated his achievement would have agreed.

But they might have argued that German soprano Anja Harteros could also be a worthy target of that encomium. I had greatly admired her Elisabetta in the Oslo Don Carlo but as wonderful as that was, her Elsa could be rightly called ‘definitive.’ Ms. Harteros has a creamy sound production of some gravity that serves her well in all registers. As she flawlessly negotiated every demand of this rangy part, I was reminded of a singer friend who once assessed a performance of Kiri Te Kanawa with mock jealousy, saying “Damn, make a mistake girl!”

But this our soprano did not do, regaling us with a text-book display of impassioned, controlled, varied, yet always lyrical Wagnerian styling. It was interesting too that her voice had been so Italianate in the Verdi, yet here was sometimes deployed with straighter tone, in more conversational delivery. She also looked beautiful, and was a vibrant stage creature that perfectly complemented her leading man. This pairing of Kaufmann and Harteros will likely be celebrated by aficionados for a long time to come.

But although the duo set the bar very high indeed, the rest of the cast was up to challenge. Wolfgang Koch beautifully sang the role of Telramund with an incisive baritone, making music of the many outbursts that most usually shout. Michaela Schuster blazed through Ortrud with relish and imposing vocalism. If her securely hurled upper phrases occasionally tended toward stridency, it perfectly suited this character, and contrasted well with the pristine Elsa. As usual, Christoff Fischesser was reliably solid as the King, and in what is rather a throw-away role, Evgeny Nikitin was a surprising treat with his well-sung Herald.

Lohengrin_Munich_2009_01.gif

To say that the orchestra had the finest night I have yet heard from this talented band is a credit to the consummate leadership of conductor Kent Nagano. It is hard to believe that this was my first “live” encounter with the maestro, but it will not be my last. Mr. Nagano led a seamless reading, eliciting spot-on ensemble attaci from all the banks of instruments (especially in those difficult expansive unfolding preludes). The brass were in fine form — nay thrilling form — and the strings just glowed as they poured out arching phrase after arching phrase. The maestro’s attention to detail highlighted several voicings and solos that were absolutely fresh and pleasing to discover.

It was curious that, having snuck onto the podium for Acts One and Two, negating audience “entrance” applause, Mr. Nagano threw that to the winds for a triumphal march into the pit at the start of Three. If he was, as I suspect, approximating the Bayreuth experience (where we don’t see the conductor until the call), why not be consistent? But that is minor, extra-musical carping. The orchestra under Kent Nagano (and chorus, directed by Andrés Máspero) were world-class, festival-class, you-name-it-class … they were of the highest class.

As for the direction by Richard Jones and the physical production, I find there is much good to be said. Mr. Jones took as his central “Konzept” an idea that Elsa aspires to be a proponent of ideals for the “construction” of a new order as the country was perched on the verge of civil war. Mr. Jones realized his metaphor as a literal “construction” of (what turns out to be) Elsa’s and Lohengrin’s Wedding House. (It must be said the stage management and running crew did remarkably fine work all night long.)

Lohengrin_Munich_2009_02.gif

Whatever one might think of the process of watching this house (aka new social order) get actually built over the course of the opera, or of having Elsa in work clothes laying bricks, this was a hugely impressive set design from Ultz, who also contributed the effective costumes. By the end of Act Two, a complete two-story chalet with balcony has been constructed and a turntable spins it around for us to admire.

And then … even as it spun … the vociferous catcalls began. (Oh, dear, and a whole act to go!) I can appreciate that the visual embodiment of the “construction” may have been heavy handed, and that some may have wished for a design more akin to a period Belgian tapestry (and perhaps Lauritz Melchior back to sing in it), but really, I found that this was a handsome, very polished design that was considerate and consistent.

Moreover, it was beautifully lit by Mimi Jordan Sherin, who took advantage of its natural color to unleash a full palette of evocative lighting effects on it, abetted by videographer Silke Holzach. Only the projection of the rising horizontal green and black lines (like an old TV test pattern) was of perplexing intent.

Director Jones was a master of clarity and focus. All the while the stage was peopled with extras building the house, we were never distracted, and the characters always interacted meaningfully. Among the beautiful touches was having Lohengrin arrive bearing the swan as if being led by it. And having him carry a baby crib to the wedding house’s upstairs room, only later to put it on the bed and torch it, after Elsa’s betrayal (shades of Waco!).

Lohengrin_Munich_2009_04.gif

In fact, cultism seemed to be more the new order than any ideal of Elsa’s. At the start, the citizens were dressed in stylized blazers and faux folk dress, with the men’s hair swept up and out like an old hood ornament on a Chrysler. Very Flemish kitsch-inspired. Then Lohengrin arrived in a modern pale blue tee shirt and jogging pants with a silver stripe. In a visual irony, the citizenry became converts to Lohengrin/Elsa and donned blue tees, while the love couple got wed in rather traditional folk dress. As Ortrud offed herself and the chorus followed suit, there were echoes of Jonestown, underscoring the occasional peril of following charismatic leaders. This was richly complicated imagery and it not only complemented Wagner, but really it represented his intent.

Did everything work? No. The goofy duel between Lohengrin and Telramund looked like un-coordinated pre-pubescent boys flailing Star Wars light sabers. And the moment misfired when Telramund rushed in to murder the hero, with Elsa standing on the wedding bed and brandishing a sword, and Telramund falling dead without having come anywhere near the lethal weapon. Spatially, it made no visual sense.

Still, at the end of the day, this Lohengrin was always interesting, if occasionally flawed work from a very talented production team, well served by a cast and orchestra who were utter perfection. And isn’t that ample cause for rejoicing?

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):