Wagnerians singing in Lohengrin are wont to joke, “Do
you know when the next swan comes?”, as if the poor things
were the common Bayreuth omnibus. Well, should you be about
to watch this 2 DVD set, I’ll tell you that a swan will arrive,
but not perhaps as you might expect.
is a classic Götz Friedrich production from the late 1970s,
when the Bayreuth house style very much favoured a minimal
approach to staging. If some Wagnerians favour an overly
Romantic approach to Lohengrin, then Friedrich is
not one of them. His sets utilise open expanses of the stage
in much the same way that Wolfgang Wagner’s productions of
the 1950s had done. Placing the characters in these settings
forced attention onto them and their predicaments. Friedrich
takes things further, dispensing entirely with the swan as
a physical entity. By presenting it as a blazing disc of
light on the stage it becomes a symbolic link between the
earthly world of Elsa and the otherworldly one of Lohengrin
and Parsifal, his father.
Hofmann was at the time one of the leading Wagnerian tenors
around. He looks the blond-haired Wagnerian hero, acts passably
and sings with firmness of voice, though is occasionally
a little slap-dash with Wagner’s carefully placed dynamic
markings. Lohengrin is the one major tenor role that Wagner
marked most often to be sung at mezzo-forte rather than a
full forte. Most tenors over-sing it; in my hearing the only
one not to was the late Gösta Winbergh at Covent Garden.
Such a pity that he was never commercially recorded in the
role, although off-air relays exist and are worth hunting
down. Karan Armstrong as Elsa was vocally a revelation for
me, as I had not heard her before. She acts with tenderness
and sings with pliant beauty of line. Particularly moving
are her Act II confrontation with Ortrud and the long Act
III love duet with Lohengrin. At the opera’s end she is visibly
desolate that Lohengrin must depart forever.
Connell’s Ortrud might not be the ugliest of voice that you
will encounter, but her assumption of the role is rightly
dominating. She masterfully controls the situation in Act
II, first with Telramund – surely the scene is a high point
from all opera – and later with Elsa. It is Ortrud’s curse
that prevails to seal the fates of Elsa and Lohengrin. Leif
Roar, an experienced Telramund, sings with confidence; likewise
Siegfried Vogel as König Heinrich and Bernd Weikl as the
Heerrufer, though none of these last three prove very memorable
Nelsson conducts the Bayreuth forces reasonably enough, though
his reading of the score cannot withstand competition from
other conductors of greater individuality in this music.
Herbert von Karajan and Rudolf Kempe stand out in my opinion.
The sound recording is clear, the video direction remains
focused yet gives a sense of the wider atmosphere too.
are no extras - cast galleries, plot synopsis or interviews
- on these DVDs and the print of the subtitles is rather
in all, a memento of its era rather than a first choice recommendation,
despite some fine performances and interesting production.