Andris Nelsons
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
1 July 2018
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Heinrich der VoglerGeorg Zeppenfeld
LohengrinKlaus Florian Vogt
Elsa von BrabantJennifer Davis
Friedrich von TelramundThomas J. Mayer
OrtrudChristine Goerke
Der Heerrufer des KönigsKostas Smoriginas
Vier brabantische EdleKonu Kim
Thomas Atkins
Gyula Nagy
Simon Shibambu
The Guardian

Klaus Florian Vogt compelling in sharp Mitteleurope update

It’s 41 years since the Royal Opera introduced a new Lohengrin. That production, directed by Elijah Moshinsky and last seen in 2009, was a largely traditional affair, crammed with dark-ages Christian and pagan symbolism reflecting the strange mixture in Wagner’s libretto. Its replacement, directed by David Alden (his second new Covent Garden show of the season, after last autumn’s Semiramide), takes a very different line. Paul Steinberg’s designs and Gideon Davey’s costumes suggest a relocation to the first half of the 20th century, somewhere in central Europe. The skewed brick facades of the modular set, with their gaping windows and steel gangways and girders, imply a country ravaged by war and a society teetering on the brink of totalitarianism, a threat that becomes vividly real before the end of the opera.

For Alden, it’s all about power politics – the story of an enfeebled king, so desperate to assert his authority that he wears his crown throughout, who sees the arrival of Lohengrin as the answer to his expansionist prayers and the means of turning around the fortunes of his beaten army. To King Heinrich, Elsa’s fate and, to some extent, the machinations of Ortrud and Telramund are subsidiary. Perhaps Ortrud’s invocation of the dark arts sits rather uneasily in this modern militaristic world, and there’s little symbolism here, except for the eruption of flags in the final scene, all emblazoned with a swan, which has become a fascist emblem. The only references to Christianity are the unavoidable ones in the text, while the famous wedding march at the beginning of the third act is wryly sent up on stage.

As one would expect from this director, everything about the production is vividly detailed and thoughtfully cogent, typically lit from low angles to produce looming expressionist shadows and stark contrasts. Every one of the protagonists is sharply defined. There’s no boat and no swan for Lohengrin’s arrival or departure, just a lighting effect to suggest its beating wings, as the set splits to reveal Klaus Florian Vogt sitting on the ground, in a white suit and open-necked shirt, for all the world like a 1970s pop singer: a Bee Gee perhaps or Barry Manilow.

Vogt begins and ends his role in a rather disembodied mezza voce, and if his tone never becomes exactly fulsome, he is always compelling, especially when singing quietly. Every word counts, and Lohengrin’s revelation of who he is in the final scene is spellbinding. He’s well matched also to the Else of Jennifer Davis, who conveys innocence and vulnerability in a thoroughly musical way. A product of the Jette Parker young artists’ scheme, Davis is a lyric soprano with a bit of extra steel, and a more than plausible actor. Their antagonists are nicely complementary, too – if Thomas J Mayer’s ranting Telramund sometimes strays into pantomime-villain territory, he contrasts perfectly with this Ortrud, as Christine Goerke moves from icy control to avenging vamp at the flick of a switch, even if the vocal ride is bumpy at times.

Together with Georg Zeppenfeld’s vacillating king and Kostas Smoriginas’s threatening, crippled Herald, they all fit perfectly into Alden’s dramatic scheme, and integrate just as smoothly into Andris Nelsons’ musical one. Nelsons’ gloriously comprehensive conducting, full of moments of quiet, rapt intensity and surging, tremulous excitement, superbly realised by the ROH Orchestra, is one of this new production’s biggest plusses of all.

Andrew Clements | 8 Jun 2018


David Alden’s new production is shot through with 20th century overtones

The Nazi subtext proves a distraction, but the design, performances and sheer magnificence of Wagner’s score carry the production

Just have faith in our love, says Elsa’s white knight after his arrival in a boat pulled by a swan, making it a condition of matrimony that she should never ask his name. She does, of course, and loses him for ever, thus aligning herself with Psyche and all the other heroines of mythological antiquity who can’t resist their own Edenic curiosity.

Lohengrin – best-known through its Bridal Chorus which the Victorians appropriated, and which Anglican weddings are still powered by – is full of Wagner’s eccentrically homespun notions about sexual love. But it’s based on German magical folklore, and pits paganism and Christianity against each other, weaving their strife – which Christianity narrowly wins – into a story of German national resurgence.

Wagner sets that story in 10th century Brabant, but David Alden’s new production is shot through with 20th century overtones, some of which work well, others less so. The curtain goes up on a city at war, with huddled citizenry and ruined buildings at crazy angles like those in the Vienna of The Third Man; the costumes mix Forties modernity with picture-book medievalism.

But as the work progresses a Nazi subtext becomes obvious, notably in the upraised-arm salutes and in the medieval storm-troopers under their forest of triumphal banners, whose swan-motifs evoke the swastika processions Leni Riefenstahl filmed in 1936. The eventual collapse of those banners is clearly meant to reflect the purged new era in which Elsa’s long-lost brother will rule, but one can’t help feeling we’ve been taken on the wild-swan equivalent of an ideological wild goose chase.

Clunky projections indicate the arrival of the mystical swan, and Elsa’s wedding dress floats down from the heavens like a reminder of opera’s 18th century conventions, but Paul Steinberg’s designs are for the most part boldly inventive, while Adam Silverman’s lighting powerfully amplifies the drama. I have never seen a stage so inkily black as that on which the monstrous Ortrud (Christine Goerke) binds her confederate Telramund (Thomas J Mayer) to her will, in a marriage whose rutting sensuality has been bred in hell. And thanks to the young Irish soprano Jennifer Davis we get an Elsa whose light, pure tone contrasts poignantly with soprano Goerke’s darker and deeper sound.

Meanwhile, the German tenor Klaus Florian Vogt – like a faded pop star in the inevitable white suit – conjures up his vision of the grail with an engaging ingenuousness in his falsetto-free upper register.

Indeed, the whole production turns on this dark-light opposition, with the chorus generating massive power in its moments of fear and exultation, the trumpet fanfares creating sound-surround from the boxes on either side, and the orchestra under Andris Nelsons’s direction honouring the sheer magnificence of the score.

Michael Church | 8 June 2018

Financial Times

Making Wagner great again

David Alden’s political production is full of Fascist-style iconography and echoes of past and present

Trust Wagner to give us a modern-day parable. A nation is in crisis, a woman is compromised, and she calls on a mystery champion to save the day. Who is he — a mythic knight, a Christ-like saviour, or a demagogic leader promising to make the country great again?

The Royal Opera’s new production of Lohengrin has its own take on the question. Drawing on the shadow cast over later generations by Wagner’s political views, David Alden, the director, has filled the stage with Fascist-style iconography, albeit of an unspecific kind.

As political productions go, this one is fairly routine, restricting itself to uncontroversial, general points. In place of medieval Brabant we get a bombed-out modern city, where flags featuring Lohengrin’s swan have taken on swastika overtones and the populace punch the air with pseudo-Nazi salutes. An oppressive regime has been holding Elsa in an underground cell. There is a drab, utilitarian look to it all, but Alden is a professional, who works through his scenario with a mounting sense of its dramatic potential.

Who, though, is Lohengrin here? The production sends out confusing signals. The rallies and swan flags hail him as a kind of 1930s dictator, and yet he had seemed a hope for the future, dressed in his white suit and sung by Klaus Florian Vogt with otherworldly, choirboy-like beauty. This is surely his best role, projected with impressive power, but also poetic and expressive.

In place of the advertised soprano, Jennifer Davis does very well as Elsa, albeit without the warm sheen to her voice that the role ideally demands. Christine Goerke and Thomas J Mayer are the fearsome representatives of a Pagan underworld, Ortrud and Telramund, though a tired-sounding Goerke seemed hard-pressed at the top of her voice. The fine German bass Georg Zeppenfeld and Lithuanian bass-baritone Kostas Smoriginas deal strongly with the tedious proclamations of Heinrich I and the Herald.

Over this coolly calculated staging an inspiring glow of light and warmth shines from the orchestra pit by the baton of Andris Nelsons. Wagner conducting of this quality, so well-paced and richly involving, gloriously played and sung by the Royal Opera orchestra and a bolstered chorus, does not come round often. Elsa certainly finds a Wagnerian champion down there.

Richard Fairman | June 11, 2018


Wagner’s Lohengrin is often considered a prime example of echt-romantic German operas, given its historical Middle-Ages setting and its succession of scenes and that comprise the drama. In that sense a conventional production may give a sense that the characters are being positioned around the stage like chessboard pieces, setting them up carefully for subsequent moves to follow. For much of the first Act of this new staging (admittedly the first half is one long exposition of the back-plot) David Alden seems to be content to do just that within Paul Steinberg’s monumental sets depicting an uneven world of militarism within Brutalist imposing architecture. Revelatory or provocative ideas are lacking, though aspects of female subservience, weak leadership, use and abuse of symbols of power (sword, crown, thrones) and the summary branding and ostracising of outcasts (Telramund) are signalled. Interesting video projections herald Lohengrin’s arrival, though the effect is oddly muted, despite the rousing orchestra and the increase in illumination from behind and above rather than face-on.

The Royal Opera’s production of Wagner’s Lohgengrin, June 2018 Klaus Florian Vogt as Logengrin & Jennifer Davis as Elsa von Brabant Photograph: Clive Barda Act Two fares rather better – here the sets are reversed, and we see the political machinations occurring behind the facades of the buildings and witness the stage-management of public events under an oppressive regime, the saintly swan image appropriated for less than savoury use. Lighting is generally very effective here, although some of the clutter results in some undermining stagecraft to clear it. For example the thrill of Ortrud’s ‘Entweihte Götter’ falls victim to distracting shadowy figures removing chairs from the gloomy recesses of the set! One idea that does stimulate is the suggestion that Telramund has strong residual amorous/paternal love for Elsa, trying to protect her from being entrapped by the snare he and his wife Ortrud are laying for Lohengrin.

Act Three returns to a more conventional approach generally, though continuing some of the themes introduced in the middle Act, and the emergence of Lohengrin and Elsa into the stalls area of the auditorium as a celebrity couple is a miscalculation, an opportunity for mobile phones to be switched on – by some – to capture this important moment for posterity! Otherwise the subtle use of lighting within the auditorium is effective – the ROH becoming the holy and undefiled spaces of Monsalvat, and the Minster in Antwerp.

Luckily the musical offering is outstanding. Under Andris Nelsons we have an interpretation contrasting luminous and warm string playing against darkly threatening and sombre woodwinds and thrillingly intense militaristic brass, the spatial effects of the latter in the final Act made awesome and unsettling, resonating with empty pomp. Nelsons allows the more expansive sections to breathe without becoming languid, allowing some romanticism to pervade the gloom; interestingly the Act Three duet between Lohengrin and Elsa is relatively fleet. Vocally, the chorus is one of the most important ‘characters’ of the cast; the complexity of the writing emerges with clarity and brilliance.

The Royal Opera’s production of Wagner’s Lohgengrin, June 2018 Klaus Florian Vogt as Logengrin & Jennifer Davis as Elsa von Brabant Photograph: Clive Barda As Lohengrin, Klaus Florian Vogt demonstrates why he is in much demand, heady and ethereal and he can also bring a steely quality to the voice, needed in Act Two particularly. Oddly though, and probably intentionally, his interpretation is oddly earthbound and dramatically passive – only his admonitions to Elsa over the three secrets startled by their rather aggressive quality. Georg Zeppenfeld, Bayreuth’s current reigning bass, is a richly sonorous Heinrich, bringing some aspects of the text to the fore fascinatingly. His portrayal of the King as a weak, indecisive and perhaps controlled ruler is strongly etched. Thomas J. Mayer is a fine Telramund. He too knows how to inflect the text with skill and his slightly gritty tone helps him deliver a trenchant portrayal of this flawed noble. Kostas Smoriginas is a strong presence as the semi-incapacitated herald. Christine Goerke, like many of the best interpreters of Ortrud, knows the value of allying stillness with sudden movement. Vocally the part suits her well, and she contends with the thrillingly brass-dominant tumult at the culmination of ‘Entweihte Götter’ admirably. She’s also not afraid to harden the tone for dramatic purposes.

With the withdrawal of Kristine Opolais from the original cast The Royal Opera took the daring step of casting a recent alumnus of the Jette Parker programme to fill the difficult role of Elsa. A brilliant move as Jennifer Davis comes close to stealing the show with a voice that is both creamy yet mettlesome – Elsa needs power as well as sweetness – and allied to a very sympathetic presence. She has a great career ahead of her.

This is a sometimes frustrating staging that highlights some of the darkness of the work, and indeed the history of aspects of Wagner presentation during the last century, with high musical standards.

Alexander Campbell | June 07, 2018


Christine Goerke Shines Among Solid Cast As Half-Awoken Myths Stay in the (Wartime) Trenches of Reality

Its preludes are themselves landmarks of beauty – but Wagner’s 1850 opera “Lohengrin” is a prelude to his future epics. Rooted in Arthurian legend, taking the son of King Parsifal as its hero, and featuring prayers to the pagan gods Wotan and Freia, it is another battle between the divine and the mortal.

In mythical medieval Brabant, Count Friedrich von Telramund plots to rule over the land with his wife Ortrud. Together they falsely accuse young Elsa of the murder of her brother Gottfried, Duke of Brabant – alleging that she did this to become the leader of the territory herself. Unexpectedly their zealous campaign clashes with an ambush: a swan draws a mysterious knight into the town by boat. Defeating Telramund in battle, he marries Elsa but he won’t reveal his name. Little does his enamored wife know that her savior is a semi-deity – his home being the Holy Grail.

An Major Misreading

The translation of this atmosphere into a setting for a feasible production is for any stage director a precarious feat. But in this particular incarnation at the Royal Opera House, director David Alden abandons a mythical whirlwind in favor of, according to the programme notes, “the turbulence of 20th-century history.” As we watch the production unfold into two halves of a bizarrely tilted castle bearing soldiers in bulky helmets, crowds in cobalt blue, mud-brown and pond-green clothes that evidently stem from 1930s catalogues, and most of all red flags depicting Lohengrin’s swan with wings spread-out in a clear reference to the Nazi eagle symbol, it’s readily apparent that the backdrop is another paradigm of the Third Reich – even if the swastika is wisely not employed.

Outside the obvious conceptual theme, the other visual elements appear lazily crafted or unjustifiable: why is the Herald’s leg in braces and his arm hung on a sling? Why is King Heinrich der Vogler’s crown seemingly made of gold party-tinsel? Prior to his duel, why does Telramund remove his clothes to reveal attire that strongly resembles a pair of pajamas?

At the opera’s climax, it is manifest that both Ortrud and Telramund have been defeated: their dominion over Brabant is no more and they are left to wallow in their impotence. We discover that Ortrud herself killed Elsa’s brother Gottfried – though he wasn’t really dead; merely, transformed into a swan. Lohengrin returns the creature to his former human state and Gottfried is again the Duke of Brabant.

Yet while the visual motif of the swan has been in Ortrud’s deadly hands, primarily the water bird is Lohengrin’s symbol: the story is plucked from the medieval tales of the Knight of the Swan. Wagner compared his protagonist’s use of the swan to the Greek myth of Zeus’s seduction of Semele, in which the god enticed his amatory bait by coming to her in a human form. For, if a mortal could espy a god in his true semblance, he or she was bound to perish. It was law. Just as it is the Holy Grail’s law that the knights do not reveal themselves to mortals. Lohengrin’s love of Elsa is a lapse of judgment; hers – a fatal error.

Although Ortrud and Telramund are tyrants in this land, contrary to Alden’s mostly colorless, grim staging of the piece, not much in the libretto is suggestive of the concept that the people of Brabant (except for Elsa) feel oppressed. The battle for power is traditional fiefdom in-fighting; closer in its politics to Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” than to Beethoven’s “Fidelio.” Neither Ortrud nor Telramund is any kind of Führer. To imply they are – especially by maladroitly using Lohengrin’s symbol of the swan – is to label all fictional enemies “Nazis.”

The analogy devolves into a trivialization of both the Second World War and of “Lohengrin,” striving to reduce obstinate Ortrud – the Brünnhilde of this work – into some cartoon-strip Hitler caricature.

When one remembers likewise that of all composers it is this one who’s accused of almost being a Nazi propagandist on account of his own anti-Semitism in the nineteenth century, a whole new shade is thrown on how much this director’s choice is ill-informed.

Solid Leads

In the role of the titular character is Klaus Florian Vogt: a tenor with a high-pitched and ethereal instrument. The natural timbre is an ideal sound for such a role. Unfortunately, Vogt’s attempts at tenderizing Lohengrin’s persona sometimes do disservices to his top register – chafing at the credibility of notes by making them unstable; occasionally souring them to the extent that they emerge off-key. Whilst both his aesthetic and physical approaches are suitably gentle and tentative, select lyrical phrases abruptly become outbursts of parlato – especially when he reveals his true self in “In fernem land” and finally declares “Mein Vater Parzival trägt seine Krone (“My father Parsifal is he who wears the crown”).”

As the lovelorn, nubile and nebulous Elsa, Jennifer Davis aptly moulds the silvery vibrato in her voice so that it shimmers alternately with anxiety, consuming rapture or compassion. Occasionally her choices for accentuation are typical – releasing crescendi on words such as “Gott” (“God”) and “Klagen” “(“Grief”) in a foreseeable way. But while there are some sneaky and unnecessary breaths, her throbbing vibrato plays well in her favor. As she attempts to persuade enemy Ortud in Act two that “Es gibt ein Glück, das ohne Reu! (“There is a happiness without regret”),” we hear anticipation, wonderment, and daydreaming both through her penetrative instrument and the accomplished choices that she makes to paint its opulence.

The Star of the Night

It is the radiant harmony evoked by Davis and fellow soprano Christine Goerke in the second act that most effuses the despondency and longing of most Wagner characters. Over the course of a ten-minute duet, Ortrud persuades Elsa that she envies her happiness, pretending to spill out her soul. The music carries so much pathos – as does Goerke’s performance – that we’re persuaded there’s at least a little truth in what fierce Ortrud “spuriously” confesses.

With the kind of voice that takes no prisoners, Goerke knows very well how to apply her instrument to character and to abrupt changes in either mood or attitude. As well as overflowing with bloodlust, her Ortrud is one who seems almost ready to throw herself into the proverbial fire: power-hungry to the point of being masochistic. A dramatic soprano laced with a thick and pulsating vibrato, the character is at once victor and loser; vanquished and vanquisher. Goerke’s unexpected experimentation with timbre – thinning and thickening her voice according to various vocal lines, most prominently in Act two in her scene with Telramund – layer her black venom with a surreptitious, calculating cunning. It’s a psychological interpretation that extends beyond the customary blunt expressions and large movements.

Mired in Grief

Making his Royal Opera debut as Telramund, Thomas J. Mayer – perhaps under directorial influence – mires his interpretation in unending grief. Mayer’s is a slender timbre for a baritone; throaty and naturally ridged with a very apparent vibrato. Although it might be better suited to comedic roles, it is the singer’s unstable vocal control which at times chips away at the villain’s conviction. There are sudden drops in dynamics; certain phrases are not emphasized enough. The first time that Telramund accuses Elsa of fratricide (“des Brudermordes zeih ich sie”) – the revelation is performed with little more accentuation than the previous words. More variety throughout his musical enunciation would most likely serve him better.

Despite the relatively small size of the role, Kostas Smoriginas lends his bombastic voice to the declamatory Herald in a way that always emanates portentousness. With no change in stability across his registers, not one command seems weaker than its predecessor. If there is the equivalent to a Greek Chorus in this piece, he seems to step into those shoes.

Glaringly fearsome in his lowest notes, Georg Zeppenfeld pumps the near-unreachable register with a dismal solemnity in the role of King Heinrich der Vogler. A clean-cut approach to the rhythms and tempi ensure that his might does not ebb.

Tasteful & Simplistic

In a tasteful but simplistic reading of the score, conductor Andris Nelsons summons the orchestra to play with finely nuanced rhythms. For the most part entrances and exits are well-timed and no one lags behind the singers. But occasionally the instrumental sections appear blatantly unfinished. Not always together, there are moments when the strings fall out of place, cascading separately like pebbles being kicked down stone steps of a beach. While there are certainly attempts in which the strings attempt to soar just like the wings of the symbolic swan, the effervescence and the languor are half-captured. Brass are clumsy to the point that sometimes, in a disarray, they are reflective of a clan of messy car hoots during rush hour. It is respectable attempt but an incomplete reading.

Like most other elements in this production, the orchestra prefers to linger near the mundane and stay clear of the immortal realm which Wagner strived to vivify. With many technical defects – vocal and instrumental – and the visual bleakness that enshrouds the cast, these stubbornly undying myths are only half-awoken. It is easy to forget the opera is an allegory.

Sophia Lambton | Jun 2018


Since returning to London in January, I have been heartened by much of what I have seen – and indeed heard – from the Royal Opera.

If Barrie Kosky’s Carmen proved something of a flop, there has been much to ponder and indeed to inspire from Krzysztof Warlikowski’s From the House of the Dead , superlatively conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, and most recently, George Benjamin’s new operatic masterpiece, Lessons in Love and Violence . David Alden is perhaps not the most obvious directorial choice for Wagner, though his ENO Tristan – the first I saw – certainly had its merits. He pretty much had the field to himself, though, given that Covent Garden’s previous staging was the lamentable fancy-dress pageant served up by Elijah Moshinsky, its final reheating coming as late as 2009 . On the face of it, Alden’s move to the 1930s must have come to a shock to the more reactionary elements always present in a Wagner audience. That it does not seem to have done so suggests either a welcome opening of minds or something – at least, according to one reading, like Lohengrin – rather less substantial than one might have initially presumed.

I wish it had been the former but Alden’s production ultimately proved conventional, all too conventional: more a potential shell for something more interesting than a remotely finished – even ready – production in itself. Designs and some stage direction, notably that of the chorus, are suggestive, but where is the dramatic grit? To offer a Lohengrin come as redeemer to a society broken by war is of course to follow Wagner precisely; to shift the actual war to something closer to our modern concerns is no bad thing at all. He unifies a people in disarray through his charismatic authority, yet ultimately cannot fulfil his duty and rejects his people.

Nazi parallels, or rather premonitions – like Marx, Wagner is often at his very strongest in pointing to where the twentieth and twenty-first centuries would go wrong – are obvious, yet none the worse for that. Even that level of critique will, after all, stand as a rebuke to those who follow that disingenuous old Nazi, Curt von Westernhagen, railing against the fresh theatrical wind of the 1970s: ‘Directors who deem themselves progressive when they transform the Ring back into a drama with a “message” have no idea how regressive this approach is in relation to the genesis of the work itself.’ Westernhagen’s scholarly methods are now as discredited as his ideology. Disciples remain, though, and few things get them so hot under the collar as Nazis on stage. Clue: they like it, really .

That said, simply to update is never enough. Indeed, it is to adopt the Westernhagen fraternity’s strange delusion that a production more or less is its designs (here, handsome indeed, for which great credit should be accorded to Paul Steinberg in particular). In many ways, when and where something is set, or is not, is the least interesting thing of all; at best, it is a starting-point. Save for that arresting, almost cinematic (Riefenstahl at a push) direction of crowd movement, its dramatic import obvious yet undeniably powerful, there is not much to get one’s teeth into. If the setting remains largely undeveloped, too much also seems awkwardly reminiscent of other productions. Had you never seen a German Lohengrin, you might remain, often literally, in the dark; Wagner and indeed many in his audiences surely deserve greater credit than that.

A King Henry whose hunched body language was a little too close to comfort to that of Hans Neuenfels’s Bayreuth production is one thing, but a falling of banners for war that aped the close of the second act of Stefan Herheim’s Parsifal is another again. If some point had been made about Wagner, the Nazis, and Bayreuth, it might have worked, I suppose; here, it seemed gratuitous and frankly derivative. What the point of describing the pages as ‘four women at the wedding’ may have been I do not know: if you like that sort of thing, then that will doubtless be the sort of thing you like. A sudden design apparition from Neuschwanstein seems merely a change of scene. Again, one can see why such an image might have a point in a fascist, even Nazi, setting, but it needs at some level to be made, not merely assumed. Dramatic motivation, then, largely eluded me. Such irritations pointed to a greater problem: a conceptual weakness at the heart. I suspect it can be remedied: if a shell, it is a fine shell. It will not, however, remedy itself.

Perhaps the same once had been true of Moshinsky. At any rate, this evening shared something else important with that final outing of 2009: musical excellence. Andris Nelsons, who conducted Neuenfels’s production at Bayreuth, was not at his strongest here, especially in the first act. Indeed, there both Nelsons and Alden seemed intent, consciously or otherwise, to underline what can often seem to be its rather static nature rather than to enliven the drama. However, Nelsons drew increasingly lovely playing from the orchestra, lower strings and woodwind in particular, and made often quite extreme second-act rubato – not to be confused with tempo variation – work, rather than seem merely mannered. His command of the architecture in the second and third acts impressed. Still more so did the outstanding singing from the chorus and extra chorus. William Spaulding’s work here is clearly reaping rewards, just as it did at Berlin’s Deutsche Oper .

Klaus Florian Vogt’s Lohengrin is a known quantity: known also, of course, to Nelsons from Bayreuth. I am less enthusiastic than once I was: the purity is less consistently apparent, the blandness more so. (Or maybe I am just tired of it.) However, it remains impressive on its own terms; one’s response to his singing will perhaps be more than usually personal. Replacing the originally advertised Kristine Opolais, Jennifer Davis impressed greatly as Elsa. This was by any standards a high-profile debut. Vocal and dramatic sincerity were matched by a security one had little right to expect. Thomas Johannes Mayer, also of recent Bayreuth fame, more than hinted at a properly complex Telramund, even if his artistry received little help from the staging. Christine Goerke’s Ortrud climaxed in properly blood curdling cries at the close, although again I had the impression a deeper production would have brought out something – well, deeper. Georg Zeppenfeld did what he could with the Neuenfels King-redux; that again was impressive indeed. Only Kostas Smoriginas, as his Herald, disappointed: often uncertain of verbal and musical line alike.

The audience, part of one’s experience whether we like it or not – unless one happens to be Ludwig II, and even then… – proved something of a trial. Someone’s telephone vibrated throughout the first minute or so of the first-act Prelude, the culprit eventually shouting ‘Yes! I’m going to turn it off’. A friend heard someone else announce upon Lohengrin’s arrival: ‘I prefer it when he wears golden armour.’ Coughing, electronic terrorism, and inanity aside, they seemed to like the production: rarely a good sign. Given what they will boo… Still, there is, I am sure, room for something more to take shape within its framework; perhaps they will do so then. Moreover, there is, I assure you, a genuinely exciting prospect for the new Lohengrin at Bayreuth this year. At least on this occasion, my lips must remain better sealed than Elsa’s. The world, however, is likely to see a worthy successor to Neuenfels from Yuval Sharon, in a production that penetrates more deeply to the work’s essence and grapples with its implications.

Mark Berry | 12 Jun 2018


Schwanenfahrt: Nelsons steuert einen musikalisch beeindruckenden Lohengrin in Covent Garden

Man wartet Jahre auf einen Schwan, und dann kommt eine ganze Schar. Kurz nach der Premiere von Liam Scarletts Schwanensee, gleitet David Aldens Neuinszenierung von Wagners Lohengrin herein, die erste seit Elijah Moshinskys in 1977 an der Royal Opera London, ein traditionelles Fest, das zuletzt 2009 gezeigt wurde. Aldens eintönige Inszenierung tauscht die mittelalterliche Kulisse gegen eine Dystopie der 1930er mit eindeutigen Obertönen des Dritten Reichs, aber unter der fabelhaften Leitung Andris Nelsons’ wurde musikalisch einiges gut gemacht.

Tchaikovsky war nicht unbedingt vom Ring angetan als er 1876 die Premiere in Bayreuth besuchte, aber er bezeichnete Lohengrin als „die Krone in Wagners Œuvre”. Tatsächlich erinnert das melancholische Oboenthema in Schwanensee an das Motiv, wenn Lohengrin seine Braut Elsa warnt, ihn niemals nach seinem Namen oder seiner Art zu fragen. Aber für jetzt ist es egal, woher Elsas geheimnisvoller Ritter kommt. In dieser Inszenierung stellt sich eher die Frage, wohin er kommt. Paul Steinbergs Bühnenbild sieht aus, als ob Lohengrin in einem mehrstöckigen Parkhaus mit Fundamentproblemen eintrifft, bei dem sich die Ziegelwände bedenklich zur Seite neigen. Der desillusionierten Bevölkerung des vom Krieg erschütterten Antwerpen fehlt ein Führer und sie nimmt blindlings Lohengrins Symbole an, obwohl sie nichts über ihn weiß. Elsa heiratet vor einem weißen Marmorschwanaltar und mit rot-weiß-schwarzen Flaggen mit Hakenkreuz-Schwänen gibt es Anspielungen an Nazi-Deutschland.

Das Land ist nach dem Krieg verwüstet, dargestellt durch das geschiente Bein des Heralds und einen schwachen Heinrich, der sich in seinen Hermelinmantel wickelt wie in eine Schmusedecke. Elsa wird in einem unterirdischen Gefängnis gefangen gehalten, wo sie weiß Gott welchen Bestrafungen von ihren Vormündern, Telramund und Ortrud, ausgesetzt war. Als sie des Mordes an ihrem Bruder Gottfried beschuldigt wird, werden Elsa die Augen verbunden, um dem Erschießungskommando entgegenzutreten, als Lohengrin als ihr Streiter erscheint, gekleidet in einem zerknitterten weißen Anzug. Seine Ankunft ist geschickt gehandhabt, indem der Schatten der Flügelschläge des Schwans auf die Bühne projiziert wird. Die Ziegelwände gleiten auseinander und offenbaren Lohengrin, der mit dem Rücken zum Publikum sitzt und seinem Schwan für die Reise dankt.

Es gibt den typischen Stuhl-Missbrauch Aldens im zweiten Akt und Ortrud schneidet sich den Unterarm auf bevor sie in blutroter Seide bei der Hochzeit erscheint und an Elsas Zweifel an der Herkunft ihres Bräutigams nagt. Man möchte meinen, dass das riesige Wandgemälde in Elsas Schlafzimmer – August von Heckels Die Ankunft des Schwanenritters Lohengrin in Worms, das das märchenhafte Schloss Neuschwanstein von Ludwig II schmückt – ihr den kleinsten Hinweis geben würde! Wenn sich der Vorhang zur „Scheldemündung” hebt (oder wieder zum mehrstöckigen Parkhaus), wirft Alden die Streitkräfte Brabants plötzlich in pseudomittelalterliche Rüstungen, während Heinrich einen Zusammenbruch erleidet und sich an seiner Krone festhält als Lohengrin seinen Namen und seine Art preisgibt. Die Auflösung funktioniert gut, die Flaggen fallen zu Boden als Ortruds Zauber gebrochen wird und der junge Gottfried steigt empor, um Lohengrins Schwert zu ergreifen und es wie Arthurs Excalibur zu schwingen.

Der Meister des Abends, Andris Nelsons, entlockte dem Orchester der Royal Opera ein leuchtendes Spiel. Das Vorspiel zum ersten Aufzug – eine Beschwörung des Grals – wurde bei geschlossenem Vorhang gespielt, wobei die Lichter im Haus halb beleuchtet waren, dazu hauchdünn schimmernde Streicher und eine wunderbar abschattierte Dynamik. Abgesehen von ein paar abgeschnürten Trompeten hinter der Bühne waren die Covent Garden-Blechbläser höchst diszipliniert, überschwänglich im Vorspiel zum dritten Akt. Der Chor war in umwerfender Form, jubelnd beim Anblick des Schwanenboots.

Klaus Florian Vogt wird immer die Meinungen spalten. Sein Tenor ist ein äußerst ungewöhnliches Instrument – schön, flötengleich. Sein Timbre passt besser zu Tamino als zu den traditionellen Heldentenören. Aber Lohengrin ist seine Paraderolle; seine zwei großen Erzählungen sind dünn orchestriert, sodass er mit seinem reinen weißen Ton davonkommt, aber es überraschte mich, wie sein Tenor mit Stärke selbst im Ensemble durchbrach. Abgesehen von einigen nasalen Noten, war seine Gralserzählung bewegend, das Diminuendo bei „Taube” war wundervoll kontrolliert.

Als Ersatz für die ursprünglich angekündigte Kristine Opolais, meisterte Jennifer Davis glaubhaft den größten Abend ihrer Karriere. Nach einem verständlich nervösen Start blühte die Elsa des ehemaligen Mitglieds des Jette Parker Young Aritist Programms auf, mit perlendem Ton und aufrichtig dargestellt. Georg Zeppenfelds dahinfließender Bass war ganz zu Beginn im oberen Register etwas angespannt, aber es passte zur unköniglichen Darstellung, die ihm Alden verpasst. Thomas Johannes Mayers Telramund war ein echter Kraftmeier, physisch und sängerisch, ein gezeichnetes Timbre, das Probleme hatte, abzuliefern. Christine Goerkes Ortrud war hingegen wahrhaft überwältigend, mit einer stürmischen Darbietung, die mehr gesungen als gekreischt war.

Wenn er nach den Vorstellungen letztendlich zum Gral zurückkehrt, um ihm zu dienen, kommt Lohengrin im Herbst „nach Hause”; es ist dies eine Koproduktion mit der Opera Vlaanderen, also wird Lohengrin tatsächlich im Oktober in Antwerpen anlegen. Wie viele Schwäne es braucht, um Aldens Ziegelwerk an die Scheldemündung zu ziehen, ist eine andere Frage.

Mark Pullinger | 08 Juni 2018


Das war eine lange und mit großer Spannung erwartete Premiere am Londoner Royal Opera House Covent Garden, der neue „Lohengrin“ in der Inszenierung des US-Amerikaners David Alden, dem früheren „Hausregisseur“ von Sir Peter Jonas in München mit überbordendem Barock-Schwerpunkt, und unter der musikalischen Leitung von Andris Nelsons. Er hatte sich mit Gideon Davey als Kostümbildner und Tal Rosner als Video Designer zusammen getan. Es war die erste Neuinszenierung von Richard Wagners letzter romantischer Oper an Covent Garden seit 1977! Mit Spannung wurde sie aber auch deshalb erwartet, weil Nelsons Frau Kristine Opolais zuerst die Elsa singen sollte und dann zur Ausheilung einer Erkrankung absagte. Sie wurde von einer jungen Britin, Jennifer Davis, ersetzt. Davis wurde die große Überraschung des Abends, denn, gerade erst 2017 aus dem Jette Parker Young Artists Programme hervor gegangen und nach zuletzt solch kleinen Rollen wie Adina, Ifigenia, Arbate, Ines und der Ersten Dame in der „Zauberflöte“, konnte man eine solch beeindruckende Leistung nicht unbedingt erwarten. Davis glänzte mit einem klaren und facettenreichen Sopran, der auch mühelos die nicht immer leichten Höhenanforderungen der Elsa meisterte und zu einem späteren Zeitpunkt bisweilen auch schon die Sieglinde anklingen ließ…. Man möchte ihr aber dennoch raten, es langsam angehen zu lassen und diesen Ausflug ins anspruchsvollere Wagner-Fach erst einmal als Ausnahme anzusehen, die aber auf eine gute Entwicklung hinweist. Auch beeindruckte Davis mit der bei Alden übel behandelten Elsa, die aus einem Verlies hervor geholt wird, um ihr gleich die Augenbinde anzulegen und wie Cavaradossi etwa 450 Jahre später vor ein Erschießungskommando zu führen. Lohengrins Kommen eilte also mehr als üblich.

Es ist ohnehin bereits Krieg in Brabant. Darauf weist ebenso ein kriegsversehrtes Bein des Heerufers hin wie zwei von Paul Steinberg in Szene gesetzte absinkende Fassaden alter Häuser, die gerade hier in London an die Einschläge der V2 im II. Weltkrieg erinnerten. Der ebenfalls aus dem Jette Parker Young Artists Programme hervor gegangene Litauische Bassbariton Kostas Smoriginas sang den Heerrufer zwar mit kräftiger, aber leicht verquollener Stimme. Wenn die beiden Wände zurück wichen, wurde ein nachdenklich grübelnder Lohengrin sichtbar, der angesichts dieser Umstände offenbar schon zu Beginn seiner Mission an deren Erfolg zweifelte. Man hat am ROH natürlich den Top-Lohengrin „vom Dienst“ engagiert, Klaus Florian Vogt. Mit seinem ätherischen Timbre, das doch eher an einen etwas dramatischeren Mozart- als an einen Wagnersänger erinnert, ist er mittlerweile zu Recht eine Inkarnation des Schwanenritters geworden. Allerdings muss ich sagen, dass sich sein Timbre wieder zu helleren Klängen entwickelt hat, nachdem ich ihn in Bayreuth und den letzen Jahren doch dunkler und dramatischer wahr genommen habe. Die Intensität, mit der Vogt den Lohengrin spielte, insbesondere in der sich immer mehr zuspitzenden gesanglichen „Diskussion“ mit Elsa im 3. Akt – das macht ihm derzeit allerdings niemand nach! Er hat die Rolle im Körper!

Georg Zeppenfeld war wie immer als König Heinrich exemplarisch im Ausdruck seines edlen und hochkultiviert gesungenen Basses mit einem etwas helleren Timbre. Wahrscheinlich derzeit die Bestbesetzung des Voglers, und nicht nur seine. Er trägt eine schlichte Krone, scheint sich aber immer wieder – verängstigt vom Ernst der Lage – in seinem königlichen Hermelinmantel verkriechen zu wollen, ein guter dramaturgischer Einfall. Das Entsetzen in Zeppenfelds Mimik mit seinen weit aufgerissenen Augen auf dem Thron ist einfach eindringlich! Bemerkenswert ist im 1. Akt noch die totale Demütigung des Telramund nach seinem verlorenen „Kampf“ mit Lohengrin. Das hat Alden wahrlich erschreckend echt inszeniert. Man bindet vor aller Augen den gescheiterten Grafen von Brabant an einen Stuhl und malt ihn mit einer orangen Signalfarbe an. Jeder Wanderer weiß, was das bedeutet. So werden die Bäume markiert, die zum Fällen frei gegeben werden… Telramund ist schon jetzt vogelfrei, nicht erst als der Heerrufer ihn auf Heinrichs Befehl hin in „Acht und Bann“ wirft.

Im 2. Akt sieht man die beiden großen Hauswände von der Innenseite, abgestützt, um letztem Verfall vorzubeugen, wie man das von alten, zu erhaltenden Bauten kennt, die ausgekernt werden, ohne die Fassade zu ruinieren. Hier ist das, was man nicht mehr haben will, was eigentlich entkernt werden soll, verschwinden soll. Hier spielt sich also nun die Tragik des „dunklen Paares“ ab, und diese habe ich in solcher Intensität kaum je gesehen. Optisch und dramaturgisch etwas abwegig sieht man zunächst Ortrud in Gestapo-Manier an einem Schreibtisch sitzend, Akten wälzend, als würde sie einen Delinquenten verhören. Man kennt das von den alten Filmen. Die Akten landeten in der Schublade – das alles war etwas grenzwertig. Aber Alden zieht mit zwei überaus intelligenten Sängerschauspielern eine Nummer auf, die unter die Haut geht.

Nie habe ich einen wilder verzweifelten Telranund erlebt als den von Thomas J. Mayer. Von einem sich dem Zauberweibe völlig ergebenden Häufchen Elend – Kopf in ihrem Schoß, den sie ihm auf einem Stuhl sitzend obszön entgegen streckt – bis zum allerdings immer noch an der Rechtmäßigkeit des Vorgehens Zweifelnden, zeigt Mayer alle Schattierungen, die man dieser Rolle angedeihen lassen kann. Eben auch die des Zweiflers, eines, der die Unrechtmäßigkeit seines Handelns erkennt, aber nicht mehr aus dem Gang der Dinge heraus kommt. Daran muss er scheitern. So ist er einmal nahezu bereit, Ortrud zu strangulieren. Seine ambivalentes Verhalten zu ihr wird bestens heraus gearbeitet. Hinzu kommt Mayers prägnanter und klar artikulierender Heldenbariton, der ihn zu einem herausragenden Rollenvertreter macht. Er weiß mit der Stimme Stimmungen klar nachvollziehbar zu erzeugen und damit den Zuhörer in das Geschehen hinein zu ziehen. Die orange Signalfarbe haftete ihm weiter an – er ist das Opfer und muss letztendlich an seiner fehlenden Souveränität auch untergehen. Man merkte deutlich, dass ihm das weitere Vorgehen seiner Frau missfällt und bereut, mit dabei zu sein.

Christine Goerke, an großen Häusern oft als Brünnhilde unterwegs, kann nicht ganz dem stimmlichen Niveau Mayers entsprechen. Sie hat zwar einen großen heldischen Sopran mit breiter Ausdruckspalette und auch mit guten Ausflügen in die Mezzolage – immerhin singt sie Ortrud. Ihr Ausruf „Gott“ klang wie das „Und lachte!“ von Kundry im „Parsifal“. Auch das „Elsa“ im 2 .Akt konnte unter die Haut gehen. Gleichwohl gerieten die „Entweihten Götter…“ etwas grell. Die Topnote am Schluss habe ich auch schon voller gehört. Auch ihr „Kehr heim…“ im Finale klang weniger voll als nur laut. Und bei ihrem dramatischen Vorstoß in den Brautzug waren doch in der unteren Lage Klangverluste zu bemerken. Das ist übrigens auch der Moment, wo die Nazi- und damit alte Klischees suggerierende Flaggen von Lohengrin von der Decke fallen und unter ihnen einen kleinen Gottfried (Michael Curtis) preisgeben. Er hebt das Schwert Telramunds bedrohlich in die Höhe – da war Ortrud schon leblos zusammen gesunken. Und Elsa machte es ihm nun nach. Eine neue Herrschaft über die Brabanter ward also nicht geboren. Ähnlich wie Neuenfels in Bayreuth mit seinem Ratten-Labor kommt Alden also auch zu einem negativen Schluss.

Im 3. Akt erleben wir ein klinisch aseptisches Brautgemach mit Doppelbett. Aber der Chor ist so überzeugt, dabei sein zu müssen/wollen, dass er Elsa und Lohengrin sogar zu einer kleinen Tanzeinlage zwingt – entbehrlich! Ebenso wie die post-stereotypen Putzkolonnen mit Aufnehmern die Bühne betreten. Die Szene und das Brautgemach-Design muteten wie eine Parodie an – und die war es wohl auch. Umso stärker geriet dann das Zwiegespräch der beiden. Die hohe Produktivität des Jette Parker Young Artists Programme wird offenbar, wenn man liest, dass auch alle vier brabantischen Edlen, Gefolgsmänner des Telramund, dieses Programm absolviert haben. Zudem könnte eine Globalisierung der Oper kaum vollkommener sein: die Südkoreaner Konu Kim sang, den Ersten, der Neuseeländer Thomas Atkins den Zweiten, der Ungar Gyula Nagy den Dritten und der Südafrikaner Simon Shibambu den Vierten Edlen, und alle waren gut. Auch die Brautjungfern machte ihre Sache ansprechend. Insgesamt war dieser „Lohengrin“ auch deshalb ein Erlebnis, weil der vom William Spaulding einstudierte Royal Opera Chorus einen ganz großen Tag mit kräftigen Stimmen und äußerster Präzision hatte und auch exzellent von Maxine Braham choreografiert wurde. Der Chor riss das Geschehen oft mit.

Andris Nelsons am Pult des Orchesters des Royal Opera Hauses ließ einen oft dramatischen „Lohengrin“ hören und suchte immer die Einheit mit dem Bühnengeschehen. Dabei begann es erst mal mit einem fast lyrisch musizierten Vorspiel, als sei es heilig, aber vielleicht ist es das ja auch… Großartig musikalisch gelang auch das Erscheinen Lohengrins mit der Dynamik des Chores im 1. Akt. Das Vorspiel zu 2. Akt war düster und voll von der Verzweiflung getragen, die Ortrud und Lohengrin hier beschäftigt. Zu Beginn des 3. Aktes bekam Nelsons zu Recht Auftrittsapplaus des völlig ausverkauften Hauses. Am Schluss gab es begeisterten Applaus, den meisten für Jennifer Davis, dann Goerke, Vogt, Mayer sowie einen besonders starken Applaus für Nelsons und das Orchester. Wenn nur die Sitzreihen im Rang etwas geräumiger wären, könnte man das Ganze auch etwas entspannter erleben… Das ROH jedenfalls kann sich prinzipiell über diesen „Lohengrin“ freuen.

Klaus Billand | 07.06.2018

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320 kbit/s CBR, 48.0 kHz, 491 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (BBC Radio 3)
A production by David Alden (2018)
Jennifer Davis replaces Kristine Opolais as Elsa.