WAGNER : Lohengrin

Itís so lustrous that it seems to shimmer, hovering as if
suspended in some magical atmosphere. Naganoís conducting evokes such
luminous mystery that literal staging would be intrusive.

Fortunately, with Nicholas Lenhoff as director, we are spared the
barbarity of kitsch scenery. We all know this is medieval Brabant, but
thereís a lot more to the fundamental drama than that. Lohengrin hasnít
come all the way from Montsalvat just to meet Elsa. Fundamental to this drama
is the eternal struggle between Good and Evil. The vaguely Cold War imagery
evokes the sense of Brabant as a tense, militarized state which might at any
moment be annihilated. This alludes to instability and murderous power
struggles which created the situation the country is faced with. This court
at Brabant ìisî a court in the legal sense, where judgement is being
made. Itís a political show trial, for Elsa is being framed for a crime she
did not commit. An edge of fear and anxiety polarizes this court : tapestries
and fripperies would distract. This production, with its clean, uncluttered
lines, pares away non essentials, so the music itself is thrown into stark
focus, without distraction. Itís the music, and Naganoís conducting
style, that above all defines this performance.

The Prelude seems to rise out of nothingness, creating a translucence
which evokes images to come, when Lohengrin, the shining knight, enters is a
blinding blaze of light. Naganoís precision keeps the orchestral textures
clean, so the strings really seem to shimmer and the brass to glow. The
playing is exquisite, details tellingly focussed, yet thereís real
resonance in the strings and winds. Itís important that Nagano manages to
bring out this underlying romance and mystery, because it reminds us whatís
at stake ñ Brabant is a symbol of past and future glory, a place where
human values can still flourish even though the present is threatened. This
level of playing continues throughout, almost competing for prominence with
the vocal parts, for motivs like the ìSwanî music were so vividly
achieved. Indeed, at times I was listening to the orchestration rather than
the singing, longingly waiting for the next interlude. But the music is well
integrated into the action. The brass in theVorspiel, for example, are bright
and animated, seamlessly leading, at the head of the procession, into the
Wedding march. The Morgenrˆte is particularly entrancing, Nagano getting his
musicians to paint in sound a wonderful panorama, depicting the scene aglow
with sunrise, trumpets shining, flags unfurled, yet never overwhelming with
temporal imagery the fundamentally cosmic nature of the drama.

Solvieg Kringelborn is a charming actress, so despite a constrained vocal
range, sheís convincing and full of character. This Elsa, human as she is,
has no chance of standing up to Ortudís machinations, especially an Ortrud
as complex and powerful as Waltraud Meier. Meier has inhabited this role so
long that sheís able to adapt her nuances to suit the spirit of the
production. Here sheís surprisingly glamorous, her wildness contrasting
seductively with the stiff formality of Brabant. This may not be her finest
performance technically, but her experience only adds to the sense of
authority she brings to her characterization. No wonder Telramund, no
innocent ingÈnue, is entranced. Tom Fox has thought his role through, for
his Telramund is sympathetic, a good man gone astray, seduced, literally, by
the ìotherî world Ortrud represents. The Telramund/Ortrud relationship is
in many ways a counterbalance to the Elsa/Lohengrin relationship, so the
humanity Fox brings enhances the levels of meaning. For all the honours
bestowed n him, Roman Trekelís Herald is disappointingly one

The moment Lohengrin enters is a devastating piece of theatre. The flash
of light which announces him is so blinding that it takes some moments for
the eye to adjust. How Wagner would have loved that, had he modern
technology. At first Klaus Florian Vogtís portrayal seemed too solid,
particularly against the diaphanous, transparent textures in the
orchestration. Yet this, too, added to the realisation. Dressed in an
improbably shiny suit, he looks like a creature unused to wearing
ìnormalî clothes. His natural habitat is another, more spiritual plane of
existence. Much is made of the swan imagery in his music. At times he even
looks like a swan turned into a man. Hence, perhaps the gravity of this
portrayal, for swans, though graceful, are immensely strong. Itís also an
interpretation that relates to the Old Gods Ortrud serves, who are animist,
and carnal, forces of nature. At the end, Ortrud, in defeat, appears in a
dress made of feathers. This characterisation of Lohengrin, brings out his
essential alien quality. Heís so engrossed at the piano he doesnít notice
his bride approach. Elsa canít fathom his strange emotional makeup, and is
so unsettled that she asks the fatal question. Despite his muscular
appearance, Vogtís voice is pure toned and lucid, his In fernem Land,
soaring and floating with the orchestra, evoking the vision of a spiritual
existence beyond the ken of the physical world.

Most DVDs come these days with a bonus film, most of them afterthoughts
put together as an alternative to a booklet. The bonus with this release,
however, is actually useful. Each character talks about their interpretation,
as do Nagano and Lenhoff. Nagano was and remains a specialist in 20th century
music, which is perhaps why his style emphasises the more esoteric,
sophisticated aspects of Wagnerís music. This production is so good because
it recognises what Nagano is doing. Lenhoff says, in a moment of great
insight, that the Prelude is ìthe first monochromatic music ever
writtenÖ.the best Philip Glass, you knowî. This is a very different
Lohengrin, but most intriguing.

Anne Ozorio © 2007

image_description=Richard Wagner: Lohengrin
product_title=Richard Wagner: Lohengrin
product_by=Elsa : Solvieg Kringelborn (soprano), Ortrud Waltraud Meier (mezzo), Lohengrin : Klaus Florian Vogt (tenor), Heinrich der Vogler : Hans-Peter Kˆnig (baritone), Telramund : Tom Fox (baritone), Herald : Roman Trekel (baritone), Europa Chor Akademie Mainz, Chorus of the National Opera of Lyon, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Kent Nagano (conductor), Nikolaus Lenhoff (director)
product_id=Opus Arte OA 0964 D [3DVDs]