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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin (1851)
Lohengrin – Peter Hofmann (tenor)
König Heinrich - Siegfried Vogel (bass)
Elsa – Karan Armstrong (soprano)
Ortrud – Elizabeth Connell (soprano)
Telramund – Leif Roar (baritone)
Heerrufer – Bernd Weikl (baritone)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus/Woldemar Nelsson
rec. Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, 25-30 June 1982. DVD Region 0.
EUROARTS 2072028 [2 DVDs: 200.00]

Experienced 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.
This 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.
Peter 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.
Elizabeth 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 in the long run.
Woldemar 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.
There are no extras - cast galleries, plot synopsis or interviews - on these DVDs and the print of the subtitles is rather small.
All in all, a memento of its era rather than a first choice recommendation, despite some fine performances and interesting production.
Evan Dickerson


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