Donald Runnicles
San Francisco Opera House Chorus and Orchestra
October 1996
Civic Auditorium San Francisco
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Heinrich der VoglerJan-Hendrik Rootering
LohengrinThomas Sunnegårdh
Elsa von BrabantKarita Mattila
Friedrich von TelramundTom Fox
OrtrudElizabeth Connell
Der Heerrufer des KönigsDavid Okerlund
Vier brabantische EdleBenoît Boutet
Stuart Skelton
John Autry
John Relyea

Swedish tenor’s U.S. debut in “Lohengrin’

THE SAN Francisco Opera’s latest Lohengrin, Thomas Sunnegardh, made his mildly satisfactory U.S. opera debut Sunday afternoon at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, in what is quickly developing into the musical-chairs production of the 1996-97 season.

First, Sunnegardh, a member of the Royal Swedish Opera, was named to replace the scheduled Chris Merritt in last Sunday’s matinee and Saturday’s 7 p.m. performance. Merritt canceled because of a death in the family. But with the announcement of Ben Heppner’s withdrawal (for health reasons) from Wednesday’s “Lohengrin” (and the cancelation of official “cover” Merritt), Sunnegardh has been tapped to sing the principal role in that 7 p.m. performance, too. In the words of that bit of Lohengrin-lore, “What time is the next swan?” The Stockholm native, who has been performing the lighter Wagner tenor roles on the international opera circuit (he also appears as Froh on the Cleveland Orchestra’s recording of “Das Rheingold” ), Sunday introduced a tasteful medium-weight instrument that inclines to a leathery timbre. Sunnegardh sought volume by holding vowel sounds for a small eternity, but he often scooped into notes.

Pitch was an intermittent problem throughout. Sunnegardh attained his finest moments in the Act III bridal chamber scene in which he and his superb Elsa, soprano Karita Mattila, actually suggested the lyrical hesitancy of first love. There was evidence, too, of the tenor holding back for the final “In fernem Land” monolog. Within the considerable constraints of Laurie Feldman’s hapless production, Sunnegardh cuts a reasonably heroic and ardent figure. His final exit, however, like the other transformations, totally lacks a sense of wonder, a quality indispensable in this opera.

Music director Donald Runnicles has coordinated his efforts with the chorus more precisely. But in most other respects, “Lohengrin” has deteriorated since its Sept. 28 premiere. Elizabeth Connell’s pushed-up mezzo-soprano has given us a frayed Ortrud who must shriek her final imprecation at pitches unimagined by Wagner. The Telramund, Tom Fox, brings a dry, unsupported baritone to the task. This artist has developed a noticeable bark, and there’s an air of desperation about the performance.

Sunday’s repeat found this writer seated across the aisle from the technician at the sound board; he put on a show to rival the doings on stage. Coming in for heavy amplification were Connell, Fox, the Opera Chorus and offstage brass. So, what you get now, especially from Connell and Fox, is louder, unattractive vocalism that bounces off the walls of the Civic in an unnatural manner.

Allan Ulrich | Tuesday, October 8, 1996

User Rating
Media Type/Label
OA 4894
Technical Specifications
In-house recording
A production by Laurie Feldman
Possible dates: 6 or 10 October 1996
I’m not sure this recording ever existed (it’s no longer available from OA)