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[Photo by Marcus Lieberenz]
25 Jan 2017

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part II: Kasper Holten’s angelic Lohengrin

Contrary to Stolzi’s multidimensional Parsifal, Holten’s simple setting of Lohengrin felt timeless with its focus on the drama between characters. Premiering in 2012, nothing too flashy and with a clever twist,

Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin Part II: Kasper Holten’s angelic Lohengrin

A review by David Pinedo

Photos by Marcus Lieberenz

 

Holten’s vision turns out a facilitating backdrop to put Wagner’s musical cosmos on a pedestal. From the Orchestra of the DOB, Alex Kober coaxed an electrifying momentum burning with brilliance in the musical details of Wagner’s early masterpiece. The evening flew by.

Act I opens with a shooting star on the hanging backdrop. The meandering fog making its way lowly across the stage during the slow-burning, lusciously misty Overture, evoked my memory of the cloak of morning fog covering Lake Lucerne during my Swiss adventure to Tribschen, where Wagner composed Lohengrin around 1850. I can’t imagine a better way to open this opera. And this was just the beginning.

Annette Dasch conquered the audience with her stunning portrayal of Elsa von Brabant. She captivated from the moment she appeared on stage. Dasch endowed Elsa with a chastity and devotion, which she reflected with ferocious virtue in her voice. She equally convinced in her growing panic and doubt concerning the true name of her savior and husband, Lohengrin.

In Act II, the slim beams with green light vertically erected on stage, I associated with the Northern Lights, from where, I imagined, Ortrud drew her powers. Elisabete Matos sang sinisterly brooding and highly vindictive. Her voice resonated all the envy Ortrud requires. Matos proved a scene stealer as Ortrud manipulated Telramund into her scheme to seed doubt in Elsa about Lohengrin’s origin. An intimidating and threatening tone permeated Wolfgang Koch’s angerful Telramund.

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The light and darkness, Elsa’s innocent virtue and Ortrud’s jealousy and cunning, could not have been more strongly reflected than in the contrasting timbres of Dasch and Matos.

Dasch proved a riveting actress on all fronts. Rich in sound, convincingly emotional, and absolutely glamourous. What a voice! What great acting! I was absolutely enamoured by her.

Slightly superheroic with swan (or angel?) wings on his back, Peter Seiffert put on an honourable and warmhearted Lohengrin. Jesper Kongshaug’s lighting and smoking effects added explosive dramatic energy during Seiffert’s showstopping first appearance as Lohengrin...but no swan to be seen except for the wings on his back.

In the Third Act when he reveals he is Parsifal’s son, Lohengrin radiated nobly, almost saintly. Is Holten’s Lohengrin an angel as well? Yet even with his divine voice, Seiffert could not compete with Dasch's starpower. Still, above all, their synergy surged in romance and despair during their wedding night duet.

Holten’s ideas had some drawbacks. Gottfried’s role felt absently unexamined. At the front of the stage, his body was outlined as if at a modern crime scene. At the end, Ortrud redrew the lines emphatically provocative. It served as a continual reminder of Gottfried’s death.

After the glorious Bridal Chorus, during the wedding night, Holten’s strange inclusion of a one-person wedding bed with one pillow, that turned out to be Gottfried’s coffin covered by a white sheet with the corpse of Gottfried. In an unforeseen twist Holten seems to suggest that Ortrud was right. Elsa killed Gottfried? So there was no swan? Is Lohengrin then an angel?

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Whatever these mysteries for interpretation, they certainly didn’t impede any of the musical drama.

In two last minute replacements, Günther Groissböck sang with a majesty that seemed to be emanating from every fibre of his body. His dashing and virtuous demeanor made for an excellent King Heinrich. Equally impressive as substitute was Markus Brück as Announcer of the King. However brief his moments, Brück owned the stage with his grounded voice as if he was the actual lead character.

With Alex Kober, the Orchestra of the DOB’s luscious strings carried on Wagner’s fast-paced drive. From the balconies or from high up in the wings, the brilliance from the brass and pulsating percussion resonated in Wagner’s majestic passages, providing spectacular moments in Act III.

In addition, under Kober the solos flashed, more so than in the powerful and thickened texture of Runnicles’s Parsifal. Then again, Lohengrin has the lighter touch of a younger Richard, whereas his last opera has a much consuming score. Runnicles optimized the power of Parsifal’s length that forces the listener to travel deeper into Wagner’s intoxicating musical cosmos.

This was just the DOB in the Fall. If you at their programming this spring, they cast the best Wagner singers (including, Herlitzius and Westbroek) for the final two performances of its current production of Ring Cycle in April. You can still catch in this Lohengrin in February.

While for the newcomers, a visit to Tannhäuser or Der fliegende Holländer should be a highly encouraging introduction to Wagner’s world.

If you can’t make it to Bayreuth, when it comes to frequent and consistent Wagnerian vocal extravagance, the Deutsche Oper is the place to be in Berlin.

David Pinedo

Heard December 11, 2016, Deutsch Oper Berlin.

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