Kurt Herbert Adler
San Francisco Opera House Chorus and Orchestra
6 October 1978
War Memorial Opera House San Francisco
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Heinrich der VoglerGwynne Howell
LohengrinGuy Chauvet
Elsa von BrabantAnne Evans
Friedrich von TelramundRaimund Herincx
OrtrudJanis Martin
Der Heerrufer des KönigsAllan Monk
Vier brabantische EdleJohn Miller
John del Carlo
Gene Albin Christian
David Eisler
Opera Warhorses

Kurt Herbert Adler, the SFO’s general director, came down from his office, momentarily withdrawing his fingers from numerous administrative pies, to conduct Wagner’s Lohengrin himself. There’s an old saw that Adler was a more or less terrible conductor, but such in most instances was simply not the case.

Quite the contrary in this Lohengrin launched with an exceedingly plaintive wind chord, the first thing one hears after the conductor activates the orchestra. The intensity underlying Elsa’s Dream was something special too, and my how in this scene he built the tension as the chorus considers the possibility of an unknown hero dropping somehow into their space.

Guy Chauvet, the French tenor who could sound something like a cross between Sandor Konya and Jess Thomas, was not as I recall in good voice on the opening night of the Lohengrin run, but the broadcast which I’ve just re-listened to, coming as it did some days later, finds him doing his sweet and clarion thing with aplomb. He even sings the first seven measures of In fernem Land more quietly than Wagner’s specified pianissimo. Just try that! In the Farewell, thanks to a fortuitous mixture of midnight fatigue and some very keyed up expression he created an atmosphere of near-terrifying despair that was entirely sui generis.

For Elsa there was Anne Evans, on the threshold of a Wagnerian career that climaxed with Isoldes and Bruennhildes at London’s Coliseum. She brought to San Francisco a creamy/friendly lyric soprano, quite radiant indeed. And Janis Martin with a light timbre of her own (casting for blend here!) was an incisive Ortrud, vocally sexy as was usually the case with this underrated artist. Gwynne Howell’s King Henry was, of course, a joy to listen to.

Not visible of course on the broadcast tape is Beni Montresor’s entrancingly filmy mise-en-scene, fairy tale like — and what is Lohengrin if not that? — but not bedeviled by cuteness.

December 1st, 2010

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A production by Wolfgang Weber