Lohengrin

Daniele Gatti
Coro e Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna
Date/Location
23 November 2002
Teatro Comunale Bologna
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
Heinrich der VoglerGiorgio Surjan
LohengrinChristopher Ventris
Elsa von BrabantEmily Magee
Friedrich von TelramudLucio Gallo
OrtrudLinda Watson
Der Heerrufer des KönigsMorten Frank Larsen
Vier brabantische EdleMoreno Finotelli
Enrico Picinni Leopardi
Giuseppe Guidi
Sandro Pucci
Gallery
Reviews
Classics Today

LOHENGRIN’S SWAN FLIES BACK TO HIS ITALIAN NEST

Bologna has been regarded as the sanctuary of Italian Wagnerites since 1871, when “Lohengrin” premiered at its Teatro Comunale in the presence of none less than Giuseppe Verdi, a circumstance which any visitor may be reminded about as he/she steps into the house’s majestic foyer showing both composers side by side as huge bronze bas-reliefs. Only Giuseppe from Busseto and Richard from Leipzig, twins in public favor as they were in their birthyear of 1813, enjoy that particular distinction among a host of composers whose portraits are scattered around the hall. Yet, setting apart the burden of tradition, this 2002 staging of “Lohengrin” has many merits which the Bolognese audience rewarded with their usual warmth. But there is one glaring shortcoming, possibly originating from an all too generous confidence in the casting: Stuart Skelton, a last-minute substitution for Christopher Ventris, isn’t up to the task in the title role, either vocally or dramatically. He stands onstage like the Michelin Tire-Man whom he resembles very much in his bodily likeness, and warbles beautiful notes with his light tenor voice — unheard by most of the audience amidst the storm of sound stirred up by the orchestra, the chorus and the rest of the company. Even the gentle soprano Emily Magee as Elsa overshadows him during their extended love scene in Act 3, so that when he timidly states “aus Glanz und Wonne komm’ich hier,” (I come from splendor and delight) it’s hardly a surprise that she doesn’t believe him. Nobody would.

The other news is very good. The Comunale ensemble, under the firm and nuanced guidance of Daniele Gatti, provided all of the fuel needed for “Lohengrin,” an opera where the collective or epical element is no mere background. Mass scenes proved a strongpoint, notably from “Sieg! Sieg! Sieg!” to the end of Act 1; the second part of Act 2 (scenes 3-5, from “In Fruehn versammelt” to “Heil! Heil dem Koenig”) and above all, the beginning of Act III, where the introduction and bridal chorus succeeded each other at a nervous pace, almost seamlessly, yet without missing a single detail of the many beauties devised by Wagner which run-of-the mill performances often turn into pomp and boring commonplace. Under Gatti’s baton, on the contrary, they sounded as novel and fresh as if heard for the first time.

The evil Telramund and Ortrud (Lucio Gallo and Linda Watson) were excellent throughout with their uncommon acting talents as well as stylish Wagnerian wicked exclamation; Elsa was as innocent, subdued, romantic (and a bit foolish in the end) as Wagner may have desired her; bass Giorgio Surian rendered his royal character with due earnest and a hint of the bombastic, which didn’t spoil at all, as in his long solo in Act 3, scene 2. The young Danish baritone Morten Frank Larsen proved a most happy surprise as the Herald: both a powerful singer and a clever actor, he managed to enliven his formal utility role into a full-blown character.

Lastly, director Daniele Abbado and his assistant in charge of video-art, Luca Scarzella, devised a basic staging devoid of any Eurotrash-style bizarrerie. Most of Wagner’s extravagant stipulations were satisfied (with the exception of horses onstage in Act 3), but in such a minimalistic or dream-like manner that one might need previous knowledge in order to tell what they possibly stand for: low-definition floating sheets for the Grail dome at Monsalvat, a white ectoplasm for the swan, storm-clouds colored in gold, motionless black-and-white pictures of some asteroid lost in deep space, and the like. The stage sets suggest towering Gothic halls and stairways without actually showing much else than raw surfaces looking like grey stone, bronze, steel or melted blue glass. The costumes are predictably white for the good guys and black or tan for the bad; the people of Brabant are attired in burnt siena and the Germans in army grey — with lots of spears all around, exactly as Wagner demanded them.

Teatro Comunale, Bologna, Italy; December 1, 2002

andante.com

Any Wagner production in Bologna is due to raise high expectations among Wagnerites all over Italy (and there are more than a few of them). For the Teatro Comunale hosted the very first Italian performance of any Wagner opera in November-December 1871: Lohengrin, sung in Italian with Italo Campanini in the title role. (Verdi attended one night, pencilling hasty — and not unfriendly — notes in his score.) That was the beginning of Bologna’s longstanding Wagner cult (maintained in opposition to the anti-Wagner nastiness at La Scala in Milan): the Comunale presented many of the German composer’s operas in subsequent years, and he became an honorary citizen of Bologna and a member of the local Accademia Filarmonica. While one still happens to meet middle-aged Bolognese who bear such names as Parsifal, Tannauser (spelled all’italiana) or Lohengrin, stagings of the relevant operas have been rare in the city of late. Yet principal conductor Daniele Gatti says that more of Wagner’s works will soon return to the Comunale’s stage, though he won’t say which ones until the brand-new management of the house has finalized its plans.

In the meantime, the company’s new production of Lohengrin has been an extraordinary success, with full houses and seemingly endless curtain calls for five nights in a row. Much of the credit for this goes to the Comunale ensembles, led by Gatti to remarkable peaks of power and moments of finely nuanced expression, notably in scene three of Act I and the second half of Act II. Best of all was the beginning of Act III, where the introduction and bridal chorus succeeded each other rapidly, almost seamlessly, yet without missing even one of the many beautiful details Wagner put into the score. Many run-of-the mill performances reduce these scenes to pomp and happenstance; under Gatti’s baton, on the contrary, they sounded as novel and fresh as if heard for the first time.

Evil is usually more attractive on stage than Virtue is; a well-known rule which held true here. As the villanous couple Telramund and Ortrud, Lucio Gallo and Linda Watson displayed uncommon acting talent throughout, offering up a display of stylish Wagnerian wickedness. The noble lovers, Elsa and Lohengrin, were less consistent, appearing fully at ease only during the intimate bedroom conversation of Act III. Being no Heldentenor at all, but rather a tenore di grazia suited to light opera or perhaps Lieder, Stuart Skelton (a replacement for Christopher Ventris whose appearance went unannounced by the Comunale management either before or after the performance) might have proved an interesting choice for the title role. In the event, he lacked the necessary stamina, both vocally and dramatically; for most of the time he lounged about like an overfed white bear, striving hard to make his voice heard in the distance. On the other hand, Giorgio Surian fully rendered the majestic character of King Heinrich. Rounding out the main cast, the young Danish baritone Morten Frank Larsen brought to the role of the Herald a polished instrument, flawless diction and dignified presence; he is a very promising singer who may soon qualify for more important roles.

The staging itself was quite praiseworthy, mainly thanks to Daniele Abbado’s straightforward direction, which aimed to moderate some of the young Wagner’s more flamboyant visions. Abbado was much helped by the Milanese video artist Luca Scarzella, who provided astute, if sparse, floating images for the swan, the Temple of the Holy Grail at Monsalvat and the final metamorphosis of the swan into Elsa’s brother Gottfried; Scarzella supplemented these with abstract forms and colors — a golden mist or the towering fragments of an asteroid, mysterious shapes open to all manner of interpretation. Giacomo Andrico’s stage sets skillfully suggested imposing Gothic halls and stairways without actually showing much other than raw surfaces looking like grey stone, bronze, steel or melted blue glass. Nanà Cecchi’s costumes were halfway between some barbaric but indistinct Middle Ages and standard Wozzeck barracks garb — the people of Brabant clad in burnt sienna and the Germans in army grey, quite predictably — with lots of javelins all around to suggest a duly warlike climate.

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Remarks
A production by Daniele Abbado