Lohengrin

Claudio Abbado
Chor und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper
Date/Location
28 January 1990
Staatsoper Wien
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
Heinrich der VoglerRobert Lloyd
LohengrinPlácido Domingo
Elsa von BrabantCheryl Studer
Friedrich von TelramudHartmut Welker
OrtrudDunja Vejzović
Der Heerrufer des KönigsGeorg Tichy
Vier brabantische EdleBojidar Nikolov
Franz Kasemann
Claudio Otelli
Peter Köves
Stage directorWolfgang Weber
Set designerRudolf and Reinhard Heinrich
TV directorBrian Large
Gallery
Reviews
Mostly Opera

Traditionalists may initially be uplifted by the though that director Wolfgang Weber takes all Wagner´s so-called intentions including the 10th century Lohengrin setting very serious. Beware, the optimism may be short-lived, though: The dark middle ages have never been more genuinely dark and medieval than in this Vienna staging…

The staging “allows the singers plenty of room to develop” – indeed, as stage direction seems absent from this production. Though the director may disagree, dressing Ortrud in red is not enough to create compelling drama… In brief: This staging is unbearably boring and tedious. Trapped in the dark middle ages with no escape indeed…

Once and for all: I do not care about Plácido Domingo´s German diction when he sings and acts like he does here. Though, technically speaking, his diction is excellent. His German is not. I´ll spare readers a lenghty explanation of just why Plácido Domingo is the best tenor in this repertoire for as long time back as I can remember, but keywords include: Legato singing, dramatic presence, beautiful barytonal glow, convincing interpretation.

Cheryl Studer is a vocally a very fine and moving Elsa, though rather monodimensional on stage. However, the Queen of monodimensionalism is Dunja Vejzovic´s very passive Ortrud, who constantly looks bored more than anything else. Matched by the slightly more energetic, though wooden Hartmut Welker. Robert Lloyd´s nasal singing frankly irritates me as Heinrich, and overshadows whatever additional qualities he may have.

Claudio Abbado conducts with transparent beauty and myriad of details. In the perfect world he would have added more energy and intensity as well. And chosen another stage director.

In short: Not recommended despite excellent performances from Domingo, Studer and Abbado.

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

Plácido Domingo: 5
Cheryl Studer: 4
Dunja Vejzovic: 2
Hartmut Welker: 2-3
Robert Lloyd: 2

Wolfgang Weber´s production: 1
Claudio Abbado: 4-5

Overall impression: 2

ClassicsToday.com

Brilliance and Vapidity in Abbado’s Lohengrin

For those of you who are tired of watching productions of this opera that are either inhabited by rats or feature Lohengrin and Elsa building a house, this 1990 Vienna State Opera reading may do the trick. Or, it may bore you to death. Rudolf and Reinhard Heinrich’s sets are “traditional”: staircases, a stone wall, and tower for the start of Act 2; the entrance to a cathedral for the act’s close, etc. There’s very little color. Maybe this is what 10th-century Brabant looked like; if so, let’s be glad we’re not there. Wolfgang Weber’s direction is minimal and predictable—as Elsa is about to enter the church, we can feel Ortrud seething right before she hurls herself in front of the poor bride-to-be. Most of the singers can take care of themselves, so the movements are not awkward; only our Ortrud, Dunja Vejzovic, who holds the key to the opera’s drama, is pathetically underplayed. She wraps herself in her cape menacingly; it’s very “Spy vs Spy”. Video director Bryan Large does what he can, but there are just so many shots of Ortrud’s mean-looking eyes one can take.

But there are a few good reasons to see/hear this set: Placido Domingo’s Lohengrin is the most sheerly beautiful on disc. His legato is ravishing, the high notes ring, his commitment and concentration are never less than 100 percent. Others have complained about his German pronunciation; my knowledge of German is rudimentary enough not to notice or care. It’s a stunning performance.

Cheryl Studer’s Elsa is likewise lovely, but just a bit dull; she comes to life at the close of the Bridal Chamber Scene but elsewhere she’s merely a walking voice, albeit a very fine one. I can think of several better Elsas. The evil couple is so tedious that it can make your head spin: Vejzovic’s mezzo is strong, exciting at the top, and nasty, but she is so inert that she looks as if she’s about to nap. Hartmut Welker’s Telramund is more active but his voice lacks a center. Robert Lloyd’s King is imperious; George Tichy’s Herald is notable.

In addition to Domingo’s performance, Claudio Abbado’s leadership almost makes this set a must. Approaching it from an Italianate point of view, he gets a gloriously transparent reading of the score; it shimmers when it should and has the requisite energy and spectacular brass for the grander, public moments. Both picture and sound are excellent, though not HD quality; subtitles are in all major European languages. Stick with one of the the DVD performances led by Kent Nagano, on Decca or Opus Arte. Either tenor Jonas Kaufmann or Klaus Florian Vogt is worth it, and the productions are interesting as well, if not “traditional”.

Robert Levine

MusicWeb-International.com

Lohengrin is a romantic opera in three acts composed and written by Richard Wagner; for those who might confuse it with something else! The story comes straight out of medieval German romance, particularly Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival and its sequel, Lohengrin, written by someone else but itself inspired by the twelfth-century epic, Garin le Loherain. It is part of the ‘Swan Knight’ tradition. For those who have never heard the name of this opera the most instantly recognizable part is the ‘Bridal Chorus’, better known as Here Comes the Bride and frequently played at weddings in the West.

According to Wagner we are in Antwerp, on the Scheldt in the first half of the 10th century. For their uber-traditional 1990 production at the Vienna State Opera, Wolfgang Weber and his stage designers Rudolf and Reinhard Heinrich took this stage instruction very seriously indeed. The stage pictures seemingly come straight off the walls of King Ludwig’s fantasy castle, Neuschwanstein. There is an extraordinarily old-fashioned – it is only just over 20 years ago after all! – look to the heavy costumes and the three-dimensional sets. It could be the look of a Lohengrin from anytime from 1850 onwards. We are clearly in the Middle Ages and it is all very gloomy, with mostly muted colours and dark backdrops. Elsa is swathed like a novitiate from a convent. Lohengrin appears against a large swan silhouette in white and a hint of shiny armour, clutching his almost ever-present sword.

There is very little stage direction or acting and the principals just stand around and do their best. This all makes for some considerable longueurs that the odd moments of dramatic conviction from the singers fail to alleviate. It is not helped by the rather static camerawork and too many close-ups. The most believable acting comes from Plácido Domingo as Lohengrin. This was his debut role at Hamburg State Opera in 1968 when he was just 27 (according to his official age). In Act III he can actually summon up genuine tenderness towards Elsa and real tears when she betrays him. His diction is OK but whether it often is proper German is doubtful. If you were unfamiliar with what he should be singing it probably will not matter. His performance convinces with its burnished heroism, though he lacks the ability to rein in his attack for the more visionary quieter moments.

Cheryl Studer is a vocally affecting and secure Elsa, but she has a much heavier, more Italianate, voice than would be cast in 2012. She is however a rather passive presence on stage, though Dunja Vejzovic is much worse as Ortrud. She looks as though someone forgot to tell her it was not a concert performance … throwing a right arm out from time-to-time isn’t good enough now, and should not have been in 1990. Another singer totally lacking in charisma is Robert Lloyd as King Henry who looks and sounds a little bored with what is going on around him – matching the emotions of those watching this DVD! Georg Tichy is a sturdy Herald and Harmut Welker growls away whilst typically ‘chewing the scenery’ as Telramund.

This is a re-release – with no bonus material – of this broadcast that first came out on DVD about 10 years ago and there does not appear to have been any re-mastering of pictures or sound and both are showing their age … despite it being only twenty+ years ago. This all tends to occlude the contribution of a fine chorus.

The best recommendation for this Lohengrin is as the antidote – for Wagner traditionalists – to the rat-infested Hans Neuenfels’s 2010 Bayreuth production that has recently come out on Opus Arte DVD for the first time. Another selling point is the presence of Claudio Abbado, at that time music director of Vienna State Opera, conducting the members of the Vienna Philharmonic that play for the opera. There is a transparent beauty through all the acts and he is supportive of all his singers, giving them time to breathe – something that doesn’t always happen in these more modern times. That said, for all its wonderful detail a little more intensity and forward momentum at critical times would not have gone amiss. However I suspect it sounded glorious in the theatre and enough of that remains on this release – from singers and orchestra – to add it to your collection if you do not already have a version of it.

Jim Pritchard

operaramblings

The way by swan

No Madelaines were harmed in reviewing this DVD. It’s a 1992 recording from the Wiener Staatsoper of, of course, Lohengrin and its main claim to fame is that stars Placido Domingo (note no further jokes about water fowl despite the prominent role of Heinrich der Vogler). It’s one of those DVDs from the 80s and 90s that are a bit frustrating. The singing is very good indeed. Domingo is superb and the rest are at least very good plus Abbado conducts with real flair but the production is dull as ditch water and the video quality is awful.

Let’s start with the production. Wolfgang Weber seems to be trying to offer us a literal picture of early 10th century Antwerp, which isn’t a very exciting start. He costumes Heinrich’s retinue in a sort of blueblack and yellow striped livery so they look rather like Heinrich’s Hornets. Elsa is first scene in an outfit that makes her look more like the Old Prioress in Dialogues of the Carmelites than a radiant young maiden. The Personenregie seems to be pretty much limited to lining the soloists up in front of the chorus and singing out to the audience. Any action there might be is rather obscured by most of it taking place in Stygian darkness. Plus, I’m afraid i do find an unironic Act 3, Scene 1 a bit hard to take. The swan is rather impressive though.

This really is a shame because this is a wonderfully sung and conducted Lohengrin. Domingo must be as good in this role as anyone who has ever sung it. He’s powerfully lyrical, perfectly in control and sings a beautiful line. It’s recordings like this that make one realise why he was so highly rated in his prime. Cheryl Studer’s Elsa maybe sounds a little too mature but it’s still beautiful singing. Robert Lloyd’s Heinrich is a fine traditional interpretation; powerful and masculine. Hartmut Welker is quite as outstanding as Telramund but he’s perfectly serviceable and Dunja Vejzovic is a suitably unpleasant Ortrud. Claudio Abbado conducts a most emphatic reading of the score to which the orchestra responds with some very dramatic playing. The chorus is pretty good too.

Technically this is a mixed bag too. The stereo sound is pretty good but the picture quality is decidedly sub par. It’s a 4:3 filmed for television effort and it’s not even stable. There’s a fair bit of flickering going on, probably because so musc of it is so dark. Video direction is by Brian Large and I don’t envy him. This must have been near impossible to film and he does his best by focussing on what’s actually visible. There are no extras. The booklet contains a synopsis and a track listing and subtitler options are German, English, French, Italian and Spanish.

This disk feels like a missed opportunity. This cast in even, say, the Met’s August Everding production would have been rather special.

Michael Richter

PRODUCTION

Literal staging oddly marred by effects contradicting the score and text. Sets are grand and well realized. Costuming is stylized along mediæval lines with subdued colors. Movement is conventional and appropriate. Visual effects are frequently more clever than constructive.

PERFORMANCES

Abbado leads a remarkably dull performance, limited by factors including the singers’ capabilities. The orchestra is accurate, but the chorus features ragged entrances and careless phrasing. Domingo lacks the ring needed for the climaxes and the suave tone mandatory in addressing the swan. Studer is monochromatic but provides pleasing sounds and apparently ample volume. The duet is remarkably uninflected and anticlimactic. Vejzovic overacts vocally and dramatically. Welker is fully satisfying as a conventional Telramund; Lloyd’s king is acceptable though hardly regal.

TECHNICAL COMMENTS

Audio is superb, often detailing stage position more accurately than the camera. Video quality is good, emphasizing errors of stage direction such as midday darkness and improbable positioning. The translation in the subtitles is inconsistent and inaccurate, often to the point of misleading the viewer. Camera angles fail to retain the positions and relationships of the characters. Overall, this performance is little better than the Met’s offering; neither represents the work fairly.

Evaluation: Good

Rating
(7/10)
User Rating
(4/5)
Media Type/Label
Arthaus Musik, Pioneer, del Prado
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Technical Specifications
720×480, 1.7 Mbit/s, 2.7 GByte, 4:3 (MPEG-4)
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