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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Lohengrin (1850)
Reingard Hagen (bass) – Heinrich der Vogler; John Treleaven (tenor) – Lohengrin; Emily Magee (soprano) – Elsa von Brabant; Hans-Joachim Ketelsen (baritone) – Friedrich von Telramund; Luana DeVol (soprano) – Ortrud; Robert Bork (baritone) – Herald; Vicenç Esteve Madrid, José Luis Casanova, Francisco Santiago, Stefan Kocan – Four noblemen; Eun Kyung Park, Glòria López Péres, Sandra Codina, Miglena Savova – Pages; Andy McGurk – Gottfried; Margarida Buendia, Angèlica Prats, Rosa Cristo, M. Josep Escorsa – Girls; Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu,
Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu/Sebastian Weigle
Directed for stage by Peter Konwitschny; Sets and costumes: Helmut Brade; Lighting: Manfred Voss; Directed for TV by Pietro d’Agostino
rec. live, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 24, 27 July 2006
Picture format: NTSC 16:9; Sound formats: PCM Stereo; DD 5.1; DTS 5.1
EUROARTS 2056008 [2 DVDs: 223:00]


After a slow but intensive prelude the half transparent curtain – looking almost like a TV screen – slowly rises. We are in a classroom from anno dazumal, as they probably would have said in Hamburg a decade ago when this production had its premiere. The ‘school children’, in school uniforms and short trousers, are clearly pupils who haven’t been moved up. They are now middle aged – some even older, but they’re still rascals, running about, disturbing the peace, throwing paper swallows and fighting with wooden swords. A group of brass players is seated next to the open window and stand up now and then to play fanfares. The ‘King’s Herald’ is something between form master and class monitor. Everybody knows at once when the King pays a visit that he is the King. He is in short trousers, too, and with a Royal Crown in gilt paper on his head. In a big cupboard a shy and nervous girl is hiding; she answers to the name of Elsa. No, this is neither a students’ farce nor an amateur variety show but a production of Richard Wagner’s romantic opera Lohengrin. Strange, I thought it dealt with a supposed brother-murder case somewhere in the Middle Ages and with the arrival of the pure knight of the Grail brotherhood to defend and save the accused Elsa. Do we have yet another whim of a director who wants to clear away old conventions, to show that he doesn’t give a damn for tradition and that dignity and solemnity aren’t worth a fig? Well, the director is Peter Konwitschny, regarded as one of the foremost in his trade and a ‘deep’ innovator, and Claus Spahn goes to some length in the liner notes to stand up for his cause. My reaction is: I have read it – but I don’t buy it. I may be conservative, conventional, intellectually dwarfed, narrow-minded – but I don’t buy it! I have seen – in the theatre as well as on video and DVD – lots of productions that have been radical, unconventional, intellectually deep-probing and broad-minded. Some I have liked, some I have loved, some I have loathed and some have left me completely indifferent – which possibly is, for the director, the most embarrassing state of affairs. My reactions this time? ‘No, not again!’ ‘What’s he after?’ ‘This is ridiculous!’ ‘Is it a parody?’ ‘He must hate Wagner!’. My wife uttered just the right words: ‘Where is the music? He drags Wagner’s music through the mud!’

There are, to be honest, places where it works – provided one can disregard the sets and the costumes – and that is in the more private scenes. This means most of act 2, the Telramund–Ortrud scene and the following meeting between Ortrud and Elsa. Here the emotions and the manipulations are exposed in a way seldom encountered in more conventional productions. The Elsa–Lohengrin scenes also work, but here there are other inhibiting factors, which I will come back to.

I have already touched on Weigle’s conducting of the overture. Generally this is a rather taut reading and the orchestra play well. I have heard better opera choruses in this music, though. I presume that it was sometimes a hard nut for the singers to sing properly while at the same time being asked to perform quite complicated actions. This is also something that to some degree afflicts the main characters.

Starting from the top of the social ladder, and from the bottom voice-wise, King Henry the Fowler is portrayed as warm and rather naïve. Reinhard Hagen’s singing is just as warm and steady. His herald is noisy and rather strained. Hans-Joachim Ketelsen is a fairly conventional menacing Telramund. Apart from the fact that he runs about in schoolboy clothes and lacks any scrap of the dignity we could have expected of this Brabantian count. He is strong-voiced but too strained. This also goes for his scheming wife, Ortrud. Luana DeVol is a splendid actor, as I have noticed in other productions, and she has an especially expressive face. Even vocally she is impressive for her way of colouring the voice. One does not expect so evil a woman to sing like an angel. After a somewhat hesitant start Emily Magee finds the silvery tone and the steadiness one expects from a good Elsa. Her singing is the best reason to hear this performance. Unfortunately her Lohengrin has little to recommend him. John Treleaven sounds worn, wobbly and wooden and his acting is little better. Perhaps he heartily disliked the whole production, which doesn’t let him arrive in shining white armour. Instead he has to walk about in a white coat, looking like a lost district medical officer.

In my view this last point illustrates perfectly what’s wrong with this production. The surgeon has – in his view – made a successful operation. Sadly though, he has managed to kill the patient – and Wagner is mourning in his Heaven. For his and your own comfort, get Götz Friedrich’s Bayreuth production instead, with Peter Hofmann and Karan Armstrong.

Göran Forsling


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