Valery Gergiev
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
20 February 1997
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Heinrich der VoglerRené Pape
LohengrinGösta Winbergh
Elsa von BrabantKarita Mattila
Friedrich von TelramundSergei Petrowitsch Leiferkus
OrtrudGwyneth Jones
Der Heerrufer des KönigsAnthony Michaels-Moore
Vier brabantische EdleAlasdair Elliott
Rupert Oliver Forbes
Dean Robinson
Simon Wilding
The Spectator

About the Royal Opera’s Lohengrin I can be brief, since it is so adequate a realisation of Wagner’s loveliest, least thought-pro- voking work that it is only necessary to urge people who underestimate its beauty to go to see it. Moshinsky’s direction remains a model of intelligent economy, and there are no settings to speak of. Cos- tumes are effective and sometimes elabo- rate. The star is Karita Mattila, whose progress towards greatness is becoming ever more unquestionable. She looks mar- vellous, and moves with the confidence of someone knowing she does. Her singing of Elsa’s music manages to be both pure and untainted by insipidity. Gosta Winbergh’s Lohengrin isn’t quite so gorgeous, but be gives every cause for gratitude, and he too has an almost ideal appearance. His deliv- ery is commanding, maybe the sternest I have heard of the role, but it makes it much more genuinely heroic, instead of the customary radiant zombie. Sergei Leiferkus delivers the goods as Telramund, while looking and acting as if he were an intimi- dating Old Believer strayed in from Kilo” vanshchina. Gwyneth Jones has great presence, and I have heard her sing more unsteadily. Rene Pape’s intelligent King is a huge relief. Valery Gergiev’s speeds are often unjustifiably slow, and he makes too little of the opera’s ravishing colours. Still, the whole effect is one of refreshing, ener- getic traditionalism.

Michael Tanner | 15 FEBRUARY 1997, Page 38

The Wall Street Journal

T he Royal Opera is playing out its golden jubilee season, its last before it shuts down the house in Covent Garden for refurbishment, with what it calls a “major retrospective of key works from the German repertory of the past 150 years.” That’s a fair enough way to say that Wagner’s “Lohengrin” is alternating with the wonderful production of Pfitzner’s “Palestrina” and that “Meistersinger” is being revived next month.

Elijah Moshinsky is reviving his own, classic 1977 “Lohengrin” in rep until Feb. 22. Except for a maddening first act double scrim, which makes you feel that your glasses are dirty and mutes the sound, John Napier’s designs and John Charlton’s work on David Hersey’s original lighting look bang up-to-date. The conductor is a man of the hour, Valery Gergiev of the Kirov, and the cast a dream team.

The title role is sung by Swedish tenor Gosta Winbergh, which he had only recently sung opposite his Elsa, Finnish soprano Karita Mattila, in San Francisco and Paris. Mr. Winbergh showed that he has the vocal stamina to keep the part of the elusive knight of the Holy Grail strong and fresh until the swan calls for him again in the last act. I didn’t see a dove, but Mr. Moshinsky has the boy, Elsa’s brother Gottfried, the rightful duke of Brabant, pop up through a trap door, artfully concealed in Lohengrin’s robes–a neat trick, as the hero has his back to the audience as he announces his departure.

Ms. Mattila walked away with the honors, though. Elsa perfectly suits her youthful dramatic soprano voice, and she is beautiful; having lost the puppy fat she had 14 years ago when she won the Cardiff international singer of the year competition, she has turned into that most wonderful of all opera creatures, a slim Wagnerian (she’s a great Eva). Now 36, she can act so well that she made the creaky wind-up motor of the plot go smoothly: She made us believe that Elsa’s doubts about her husband’s name and background were genuine, even unavoidable.

Telramund was sung convincingly by Sergei Leiferkus, a singer Covent Garden audiences have taken to their bosom, partly for his versatility in roles ranging through the Russian, German, French and Italian repertories, and partly because they love his manly but sweet bass-baritone voice. It was easy to believe he had been deceived by Ortrud.

And it was easy to credit Ortrud’s villainy. Dame Gwyneth Jones was terrifying, the sorceress you would least like to meet in a dark forest. She can still manage the role–just–because, despite a certain scratchiness in the lower register, her top notes are all still there. However, she was really more satisfying dramatically than musically: Her vibrato is so wide that you sometimes feel it would be possible to hear another note in the middle.

Mr. Gergiev’s conducting was most impressive when it came to quiet passages–he got both orchestra and principals to observe pianississimo markings scrupulously, and this paid off in crescendos made even more thrilling by the contrast. This was a very adept “Lohengrin,” a romance that showed how Wagnerian drama can be enhanced when the conductor has real mastery of the dynamics–just imagine such a tightly controlled “Ring” or “Tristan und Isolde.” Everyone who can should see this model performance–it will remind us what the Royal Opera is all about while we are waiting for the house to re-open.

PAUL LEVY | Feb. 14, 1997

The Independent

The Covent Garden acoustic does not take kindly to the attenuated opening pages of the prelude. A halo of reverberance would be welcome, to heighten, to free, not scrutinise, those divisi violins as they trace out, sanctify, the motif of the Grail. Even so, on Saturday night, an atmosphere did at once prevail, and it was all in the conductor Valery Gergiev’s expressive hands. He has the ethereal spirit of this music under his fingers, in his heart, by instinct, by identification with the musical legends of his own countrymen. It was as if he, too, were falling under Wagner’s spell in the moment of performance. Pageantry, of course, is a Russian’s birthright and Gergiev was quick to rise here to the chivalry of the score, to its vaulting ambition. Urgency without haste, an unerring feeling for the phrasal shape and sweep and climactic reach of each episode. Lohengrin was in good – and exciting – hands.

Elijah Moshinsky’s award-winning production is very much of its time – 1977 – when white-box sets were de rigueur and movement very carefully prescribed along the lines of the chessboard principle. Where its statuesque tableaux work, they work well, focusing and freezing the moment in time, as it were. The big company walk-downs – like the ominous wedding procession to the minster – are effective (when are they not?). But, as a whole, the show is looking more and more now like a series of exhibits. The tottering Christian symbols – floating islands on which principal singers can be conveniently stationed for big moments – are at times something of an encumbrance, as are the gauzes. We are invited to view much of Act 1 through a haze for the sake of one feeble effect: the projection of a swan emblem which, truth to tell, looks suspiciously like the Jesus Christ Superstar logo.

And nothing should come between us and this particular cast. I have my own problems with Sergei Leiferkus (the Telramund). It’s the narrow-bore sibilance of his voice that for me diminishes so much of what he does. But he does it with aplomb. Not perhaps the word to describe his “partner in shame”, Ortrud – or rather the indomitable Dame Gwyneth Jones. It’s rare, of course, to find her so quiet for so long (most of Act 1 is spent in glowering disapproval), and time is finally taking its toll on the vocal equipment, with a sizeable enough vibrato now to keep her options wide open on pitch (pick your note from somewhere between these two). But she’s a star, a phenomenon, great value on stage, and I don’t think she’ll ever lose the capacity to nail us with those key notes above the stave. “Bless my deceit and hypocrisy,” she cries in Act 2, and the amphitheatre shrinks in anticipation of the fall-out. Our shining knight, son of Parsifal, is the excellent Gosta Winbergh – a heldentenor fine and true but, more than that, an elegant heldentenor, singing easily, effortlessly on the interest not the capital. To arrive at his moment of truth – the Act 3 narration – and still find it in his voice to fill the word “taube” (“dove”) with the sweetest and most consoling sound of the entire evening is some measure of an artistry all too rare in this voice range. The same might be said of the radiant Karita Mattila, whose beauty on stage is, if anything, surpassed by the sound she makes. It’s such an open and even and refulgent sound – and so obviously born of deep and abiding conviction. To see and hear her Elsa come alive, to see and hear the woman in her finally awaken and break through the too-virtuous-to-live exterior, is both exciting and believable. This is the Isolde we’ve been waiting for. She’s ready.

Edward Seckerson | Feb 11, 1997

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320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 519 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (BBC Radio 3)
A production by Elijah Moshinsky