Lohengrin

Woldemar Nelsson
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Date/Location
25 – 30 June 1982
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
Heinrich der VoglerSiegfried Vogel
LohengrinPeter Hofmann
Elsa von BrabantKaran Armstrong
Friedrich von TelramudLeif Roar
OrtrudElizabeth Connell
Der Heerrufer des KönigsBernd Weikl
Vier brabantische EdleToni Krämer
Helmut Pampuch
Martin Egel
Heinz Klaus Ecker
Stage directorGötz Friedrich
Set designerGünther Uecker
TV directorBrian Large
Gallery
Reviews
Mostly Opera

Götz Friedrich´s vision of Lohengrin is dark and static shifting between reality and Utopia – reality being the power-obsessed people of Brabant, Utopia being the land of Elsa´s dreams where Lohengrin lives. A golden disc mediates between these two worlds, reality and fantasy, thus replacing the traditional swan.

That Elsa is a sensitive, but not overly naive woman dreaming of an alternative to her power-obsessed compatriots is obvious from the moment she appears in misty light during the prelude. She conjures up the imaginary Lohengrin, appropriately dressed in white. However, when he returns in Act 3 as a black knight returning a miniature warrior brother to Elsa, we realize that there really is no hope.

The staging is simple, square, dark and unfortunately very static as well. While it may offend no-one, I doubt many will find it exciting. What however works well, austere surroundings apart, is the core romantic drama, mainly thanks to Peter Hofmann.

Peter Hofmann is the ideal romantic Lohengrin. He looks the part. He is the real romantic hero. He sings well. He is very moving. What more can anyone want? That Peter Hofmann in the last part of his career (end-80s) may have performed less well, may quite possibly be attributed to the well-known incipient onset of the invalidating Parkinson disease he officially was diagnosed with in 1994, and which has resulted in him apparently struggling economically as well being virtually crippled today. But in 1982 he was on top of his game.

Karan Armstrong (wife of the director) is a touching Elsa. Her high notes are somewhat fluttering. But her overall portrayal is rather moving. And while Elizabeth Connell vocally can sing the part of Ortrud, dramatically she is too placid. Leif Roar makes slightly more impact as Telramund without being overly impressive. Siegfried Vogel is a static King Heinrich, but in fine voice

The Bayreuth Festival Orchestra under Woldemar Nelsson is solid, but ultimately unspectacular.

The production is probably too static for many to fully appreciate it. However, for those wanting a traditional production, the recently released Herzog Bayreuth Lohengrin may be worthwhile.

For those not opposed to Regietheater, Lehnhoff´s Baden-Baden staging as well as Konwitschny´s class-room Lohengrin may be worth checking out.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Peter Hofmann: 5
Karan Armstrong: 3-4
Elizabeth Connell: 3-4
Leif Roar: 3-4
Siegfried Vogel: 3-4

Götz Friedrich´s staging: 3
Woldmar Nelsson: 3-4

Overall impression: 3-4

Opera Today

These recordings prove decisively a well-known thesis: more or less realistic productions always age better than so called innovative modern productions which often only aggrandize the clichés of the time of their conception if one views them a few decades after their première.

This doesn’t mean that ‘the next swan’ puts in an appearance in the Everding production at the Met ( brilliant lighting does the job) but the designs and costumes transfer us to Antwerp in the early middle ages. Exact dating of the opera is even possible: between 919 and 936, as those were the years Heinrich der Vögler was German king (though to be honest, the duchy of Brabant, where this reviewer is living, only got its name some 150 years later). Anyway, the Met production’s sets and costumes are roughly apt for the period and Elsa at least, wears some robes fit for a duke’s daughter instead of the same ugly colourless night gown Friedrich and his team thought fit for the Bayreuth production. Peter Hofmann too looks far better in his fine Met costumes than in the now hopelessly dated half knight/ half astronaut plastic (or is it metal ?) he has to wear in Germany. Friedrich probably had some ‘democratic’ problems with the king being graciously attended to, and so he has the singer seated on the steps of the stairs among all the other nobles. At the Met the king gets his throne during his hearing and the scene all at once doesn’t look ridiculous anymore. Time and again one sighs at Friedrich’s solutions and with relief one returns to Everding.

The Bayreuth production, however, has one distinct advantage over the Met’s. Four years and a lot of heavy Wagner roles later have taken their toll on Hofmann’s voice. The shine of it has somewhat disappeared and there is more strain in the high register. Granted, there is more refinement and some fine piannismi phrasing too at the Met, but these don’t quite compensate for the loss of vocal strength. This doesn’t mean the Bayreuth performance is perfect. After all this is Wagner’s most Italian opera and the recordings of De Lucia and Pertile prove what an Italian tenor could do with it. I sorely miss the ‘morbidezza’, the sweetness and sensuality, a good tenor can bring to the role, and next to Sandor Konya, Hofmann pales. Leif Roar too has not improved in the few years between the two recordings. In Bayreuth he is an impressive Telramund and he sings with the dark-burnished sound apt for the role. At the Met his singing is often crude and soon becomes barking before degenerating into shouting. Siegfried Vogel too at Bayreuth is vocally more impressive than the Met’s John Macurdy, who has some flat notes. Both Bernd Weikl and Anthony Raffell (a name unknown to me) sing a sturdy and strong Heerrufer. I don’t think nowadays both houses are still able to cast this small role with such outstanding talent.

On the ladies front, however, the Met wins hands down. Karan Armstrong is rather passive and colourless compared with the bigger and more creamy sound of Eva Marton. Elisabeth Connell is a South-African soprano and therefore can more easily cope with the high tessitura of the role but she is no match for the acting and the rich secure top of Leonie Rysanek, stunning at age 60. Woldemar Nelsson is a solid Kapellmeister but already at the prelude there is an aura of magic lacking. James Levine, with his long experience in German and especially Italian opera, immediately plunges into the mystery of the score and keeps it up till the end of the opera. The Met’s orchestra and chorus too are on the same level as the Bayreuth phalanx. As often one wishes one could take the best of these two worlds but in the end Levine, Marton and the production give the Met’s performance a slight edge.

Jan Neckers

Michael Richter

PRODUCTION

Live, vivid performance greater than the sum of its parts. Sets are highly representational rather than literal, but all required elements are visible. Costumes mix eras, but distinguish classes of characters without distracting. Some stage direction seems arbitrary or even distracting, such as figures ducking into depressions in the stage. Acting is fluid and effective throughout, although Armstrong’s physical efforts can seem exaggerated on the home screen.

PERFORMANCES

Nelsson’s contribution is more impressive for being essentially invisible; he propels the music effectively but unobtrusively. Chorus and orchestra are exemplary, with precise entrances, phrasing, and unison. Hofmann looks ideal and sings without great effort; not all notes are hit squarely and dynamics are compromised, but the portrayal is acceptable. Armstrong uses a light, dark instrument well but does not hit all notes dead center and suffers from a wobble that disrupts the image of the frail young maid. Connell and Roar are generally fine both in voice and demeanor; occasional harsh phrases can be intrepreted as fitting for the rôles. Support from Vogel and Weikl (Herald) is adequate, though neither seems comfortable with the vocal demands.

TECHNICAL COMMENTS

Video is excellent, remarkably so for the early date, with clear resolution of visual detail and color. The sound stage is well realized, with no audible impact of the analogue origins of the sound. Lighting is highly effective, augmenting the sparse sets to emphasize or even introduce physical elements. Camera work is outstanding and overall direction is both effective and unobtrusive. While individual performances from the prinicipals are short of the ideal, the result is effective overall and the recording is recommended in its own right and also relative to its video competition.

Evaluation: Very Good

Rating
(6/10)
User Rating
(4/5)
Media Type/Label
EuroArts
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Technical Specifications
992×720, 2.2 Mbit/s, 2.9 GByte, 4:3 (MPEG-4)
Remarks
The names of the four noblemen of Brabant are not given. I assume they are the same that sang the live performances.
Also available as audio recording