Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin - opera in three acts (1850) [139.00]
Lohengrin - Plácido Domingo
König Heinrich der Vogler - Robert Lloyd
Elsa - Cheryl Studer
Ortrud - Dunja Vejzovic
Telramund - Hartmut Welker
Der Heerrufer des Königs - Georg Tichy
Orchestra of the Österreichische Bundestheater/Ralf Hossfeld
Chorus and Orchestra of Wiener Staatsoper/Claudio Abbado
rec. live, Wiener Staatsoper, 1990
Stage Directed by Wolfgang Weber
Set Design by Rudolf and Reinhard Heinrich
Video Director - Brian Large
Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Picture Format: 4:3
DVD Format: 2 DVD NTSC
Region Code: 0 (All region)
Subtitle Languages: German (Original Language), England, French, Italian, Spanish
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 957 [2 DVDs: 219:00]
Lohengrin is a romantic opera in three acts composed and written by Richard Wagner; for those who might confuse it with something else! The story comes straight out of medieval German romance, particularly Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival and its sequel, Lohengrin, written by someone else but itself inspired by the twelfth-century epic, Garin le Loherain. It is part of the ‘Swan Knight’ tradition. For those who have never heard the name of this opera the most instantly recognizable part is the ‘Bridal Chorus’, better known as Here Comes the Bride and frequently played at weddings in the West.
According to Wagner we are in Antwerp, on the Scheldt in the first half of the 10th century. For their uber-traditional 1990 production at the Vienna State Opera, Wolfgang Weber and his stage designers Rudolf and Reinhard Heinrich took this stage instruction very seriously indeed. The stage pictures seemingly come straight off the walls of King Ludwig’s fantasy castle, Neuschwanstein. There is an extraordinarily old-fashioned - it is only just over 20 years ago after all! - look to the heavy costumes and the three-dimensional sets. It could be the look of a Lohengrin from anytime from 1850 onwards. We are clearly in the Middle Ages and it is all very gloomy, with mostly muted colours and dark backdrops. Elsa is swathed like a novitiate from a convent. Lohengrin appears against a large swan silhouette in white and a hint of shiny armour, clutching his almost ever-present sword.
There is very little stage direction or acting and the principals just stand around and do their best. This all makes for some considerable longueurs that the odd moments of dramatic conviction from the singers fail to alleviate. It is not helped by the rather static camerawork and too many close-ups. The most believable acting comes from Plácido Domingo as Lohengrin. This was his debut role at Hamburg State Opera in 1968 when he was just 27 (according to his official age). In Act III he can actually summon up genuine tenderness towards Elsa and real tears when she betrays him. His diction is OK but whether it often is proper German is doubtful. If you were unfamiliar with what he should be singing it probably will not matter. His performance convinces with its burnished heroism, though he lacks the ability to rein in his attack for the more visionary quieter moments.
Cheryl Studer is a vocally affecting and secure Elsa, but she has a much heavier, more Italianate, voice than would be cast in 2012. She is however a rather passive presence on stage, though Dunja Vejzovic is much worse as Ortrud. She looks as though someone forgot to tell her it was not a concert performance … throwing a right arm out from time-to-time isn’t good enough now, and should not have been in 1990. Another singer totally lacking in charisma is Robert Lloyd as King Henry who looks and sounds a little bored with what is going on around him - matching the emotions of those watching this DVD! Georg Tichy is a sturdy Herald and Harmut Welker growls away whilst typically ‘chewing the scenery’ as Telramund.
This is a re-release - with no bonus material - of this broadcast that first came out on DVD about 10 years ago and there does not appear to have been any re-mastering of pictures or sound and both are showing their age … despite it being only twenty+ years ago. This all tends to occlude the contribution of a fine chorus.
The best recommendation for this Lohengrin is as the antidote - for Wagner traditionalists - to the rat-infested Hans Neuenfels’s 2010 Bayreuth production that has recently come out on Opus Arte DVD for the first time. Another selling point is the presence of Claudio Abbado, at that time music director of Vienna State Opera, conducting the members of the Vienna Philharmonic that play for the opera. There is a transparent beauty through all the acts and he is supportive of all his singers, giving them time to breathe - something that doesn’t always happen in these more modern times. That said, for all its wonderful detail a little more intensity and forward momentum at critical times would not have gone amiss. However I suspect it sounded glorious in the theatre and enough of that remains on this release - from singers and orchestra - to add it to your collection if you do not already have a version of it.
Jim Pritchard 
For all its wonderful detail a little more intensity and forward momentum at critical times would not have gone amiss.