Kent Nagano
Europa-Chor-Akademie Mainz
Choeurs de l’Opéra National de Lyon
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester
1/3/5 June 2006
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Heinrich der VoglerHans-Peter König
LohengrinKlaus Florian Vogt
Elsa von BrabantSolveig Kringelborn
Friedrich von TelramudTom Fox
OrtrudWaltraud Meier
Der Heerrufer des KönigsRoman Trekel
Vier brabantische EdleMarkus Ahme
Volker Neitmann
Dominik Hosefelder
Michael Dries
Stage directorNikolaus Lehnhoff
Set designerStephan Braunfels
TV directorThomas Grimm
Mostly Opera

Nikolaus Lehnhoff seems not to have forgotten his old boss and mentor Wieland Wagner as there is a certain New Bayreuth timelessness as well as an air of ancient Greek tragedy to this Lohengrin recorded live in Baden-Baden in 2006, also seen at La Scala last season.

Lehnhoff sees Lohengrin as a psychological drama centered around Elsa, who is virtually present on stage during the entire opera. This is a drama of contrasts: Good vs. evil, white vs. black, hate vs. love, white spots on the good guys, dark on the bad guys etc. It takes place in a non-specified modern time period. The main stage elements are a concrete circular Greek amphitheatre (Act 1 and 3) and a flight of Freudian steps going nowhere (Act 2).

Lohengrin stands out from the rest: He wears a silver suit. He appears through a vertical door of light. He plays on an inverted piano in Act 3, which disturbed Kent Nagano so much during the rehearsals that he asked Lehnhoff to exchange it with an ordinary piano (which he refused). This Lohengrin is clearly more interesting in his art (and ultimately in himself?) than in pursuing a relationhip with Elsa, a directory approach excellently suited to Klaus Florian Vogt´s strenghts as a performer. Everything ends in chaos when Elsa lies dead on the floor at the end of the opera.

There are virtually no weak elements in a cast chosen as much for dramatic as vocal abilities.

Solveig Kringelborn interprets Elsa (unless she simply plays herself) as a slightly naive/irritating woman. Vocally her upper-register vibrato may not be to my taste, but otherwise she is actually rather good.

Ortrud is one of my favourite characters in any opera, and I still regret never having seen the Harry Kupfer Lohengrin production at the Berlin State Opera in which Ortrud and Telramund allegedly were the good guys and Elsa indeed did kill her brother. As a new Lohengrin will be staged next season in Berlin, it seems a production of the past.

Waltraud Meier´s mesmerizing Ortrud, finally available on DVD, is vastly better than any of the competition on (or off) DVD and whatever one may think of Lehnhoff´s staging, this DVD is well worth owning for her Ortrud alone. Furthermore, Waltraud Meier is in superb vocal shape. In fact, I have never heard her less sharp in her high register than here, cutting through the orchestra like a razor-blade. And she has never looked better on stage than here in Act 2. Indeed, the Ortrud-Telramund scene from this production may be one of the very best opera scenes to ever be released on DVD (video clip below).

Telramund, basically a whimp, is a thankless part, but Tom Fox manages to infuse some dignity into him, vocally as well. Hans Peter König furthermore is excellent as the good-natured King Heinrich.

Finally, Klaus Florian Vogt is a curiously fascinating as well as vocally superb Lohengrin – his voice is powerful and clear with an effortless top virtually unheard of today. Furthermore he sings with plenty of nuance and dignity. He looks fine on stage as well. But a romantic hero he is simply not, with a strangely inexpressive face and an air more remniscent of a psychopathic serial killer than a swan knight. Either Klaus Florian Vogt, Lohengrin or both are in love with themselves (to be fair: Klaus Florian Vogt seemed a very pleasant guy in the bonus documentary)…

Kent Nagano is inspired throughout, keeping a relatively brisk tempo with plenty of energy.

A 60-minute bonus documentary is included, of which one may conclude that while watching Lehnhoff´s staging is both illuminating and entertaining, watching him talk about it is equally irritating. Furthermore a not negligible part of the documentary is spent inside Klaus Florian Vogt´s van, parked directly outside the Baden-Baden Festival House, and serving as his home away from home…

Which is the Lohengrin DVD to own? This one, in my opinion. For a traditional production, Claudio Abbado´s Vienna production (with Plácido Domingo and Cheryl Studer) is wonderfully conducted and sung (Ortrud apart), but gives the impression of being trapped in the dark medieval ages with no escape.

For an entirely deconstructive take on Lohengrin, Peter Konwitschny´s Barcelona production may be worth a look.

For various reasons, mainly related to casting issues, I cannot honestly recommend either the early Bayreuth or the Metropolitan Lohengrin DVD productions.

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

Klaus Florian Vogt: 4
Solveig Kringelborn: 4
Waltraud Meier: 5
Tom Fox: 4
Hans Peter König: 4-5

Kent Nagano: 4

Lehnhoff´s staging: 4

General impression: 4

MusicWeb-International.com (1)

As is so often the case with Wagner, we’re suddenly thrown into proceedings that have been evolving for a long time before the opera opens. Who is this young woman Elsa, whom we see prostate and agonised on an empty stage? How has she come to be in this position? This production cuts straight to the heart of the drama. There’s no need for pseudo-medieval trappings: Elsa’s position is symbolic. She’s the pivot on which the wider forces of Good and Evil rotate. The set is spartan, militaristic in vaguely Cold War terms, which further heightens the tension. The trial keeps us alert because it references things to events in the recent past. Elsa isn’t just a dumb blonde waiting for a knight in shining armour. Nikolaus Lenhoff brings out the stark intensity of the dilemma facing Brabant, or any other society at the crossroads. The simple, elegant set also means that there’s little to distract from the music. I have never understood why people who listen only to recordings “need” naff sets. If it’s really the music they’re after, why clutter the experience with swan costumes and pageantry? It’s not logical. It’s an affectation that doesn’t ring true.

The orchestral playing here is superb, and really deserves the focus it gets in this production. Nagano, with his modernist sensibilities, makes the score shine with clarity and precision. Stretching the tempi might work in more leisurely productions, but not here. This production is powerful because it’s so immediate and alert, and the conducting style is very much a part of the overall concept. Nagano’s sensitivity to the inherent psychological drama in the music makes for very tight shifts of tempo and colour. The orchestra sounds like a powerful beast ready to pounce, held under firm control. Watching Nagano conduct is part of the thrill. He’s animated yet completely at one with his players. The famous Prelude, rising as if from nowhere, from the pit, is beautifully translucent, strings so well blended that the overall effect shimmers. The Vorspiel to Act Three is taken at a prancing pace, the brass packing a punch. Yet, Nagano makes the decorations warm, so it leads naturally into the wedding music. Later, in the Morgenröte, Nagano and his orchestra convey so strongly in sound the images of a sunrise, trumpet alarums, flags unfurling and so on, that the simple, sombre set seems to disappear in the face of the relentless forward thrust of the fanfare.

Perhaps the gentle humour fits with the image of the happy bridegroom so engrossed at the piano that he doesn’t notice his bride approach. He’s not, after all, a red-blooded male but an alien from another realm. It’s a gentle way of exploring the hero’s deeper aspects, without probing too closely into his ultimate inability to connect to a woman. It also makes sense of Elsa’s somewhat histrionic personality, hinted strongly at in the First Act, where she’s an Outsider, too, almost demented with fear. I’ve always had a soft spot for Solveig Kringelborn, having heard her in her first London recital years ago. Hers is not the most perfect of voices, for it has a tendency to sharpen at the lower end. But she can act, infusing what she sings with feeling and character. I’d rather a conflicted Elsa than perfect but remote interpretation. When Lohengrin shouts “Curb your madness!”, you know what he means. Klaus Florian Vogt has a much more classically beautiful voice, as befits a Higher Being. His shiny suit is so badly cut, you realise that it’s deliberate – this fellow is a swan, he isn’t used to wearing a suit, or relating to the messy emotional world of humans. Fortunately, the sheer beauty of Vogt’s ringing, pure tones shines out, dispelling the stiff, formal body language that’s part of the characterisation in this production. The orchestra comes gleaming to the rescue, reinforcing the sense of light and radiance.

Waltraud Meier has portrayed Ortrud so many times she’s made it her territory. She is, of course, excellent. It’s one of those roles where getting older enhances the characterisation, and her voice still easily packs the heft it has always had. In the First and Second Act, she effortlessly steals the thunder from Kringelborn , even though this isn’t her darkest and most inspired portrayal. Curiously, in the end, she appears in a dress that looks more feathery than Lohengrin’s. When she calls out to the forgotten Gods, you wonder if they were animist and primeval, or indeed, if they really are defeated. It’s an intriguing touch, especially when the new Duke is revealed and looks just like a younger version of Vogt, complete with padded suit to mimic Vogt’s solid build. This is no wan stripling. In fact, he’s decidedly swan-like in the sense that swans are stronger than they look. It’s a strikingly Freudian detail, and very thought-provoking.

Tom Fox and Hans-Peter König characterise their roles fully, Fox in particular singing with impressive depth. Telramund is a pivotal figure too, in that he conveys force without intellect, old loyalties that are waylaid by short-term gains. He was the mainstay in the First Act. I do try to warm to Roman Trekel, but he really doesn’t do anything for the Herald, a role that could be a lot less “minor” than it is here.

The documentary “Never shall thou ask of me” is much better than the average bonus film. It’s actually worth watching because it tells a lot about how a production is developed. Lehnhoff doesn’t go for fashion or gags, everything has to fit together logically. Contrary to populist opinion, good directors know the music intimately. Lenhoff describes the Prelude as the “first monochromatic music ever written … the best Philip Glass, you know”. And then there’s a shot of Nagano and the orchestra doing just that. Listening to the singers, in particular to the articulate Tom Fox, is revealing.

Anne Ozorio

MusicWeb-International.com (2)

I am not an avid fan of Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s Wagner productions as a rule, but he always stirs up enough interest that I pay attention to what he’s up to. He is now one of the “grand old men” among opera directors and he is never less than intellectually challenging at this stage of his career. This filmed Lohengrin, from the 2006 Baden-Baden Festival, strikes me as being a triumph, for a conceptualized production, a genre that I have grown to dread in recent years with the advent of things like kitchen chairs hanging from walls, televised Flower Maidens, Grails in bank vaults, gods in raincoats carrying lucite suitcases and the like. Lehnhoff’s Lohengrin does not regale us with any of that nonsense, the closest he gets being the reverse piano on which Lohengrin composes bits from Act 3 as the music rises out of the pit. It works, just, because Klaus Florian Vogt actually appears to be playing the piano and seems to have some facility and certainly familiarity with the instrument, unlike screen actors who try to fake playing musical instruments to disastrously risible effect. The minimalist set comprises a large two-piece moveable bank of stadium seating, conjuring up mental pictures of the Nürnberg Rallies of the 1930s, which has given some reviewers the idea that this production is Lehnhoff’s re-creation of Hitler’s Third Reich. It isn’t. As Lehnhoff states very clearly in the terrific documentary Never Shalt Thou Ask of Me on the third disc, his vision is a more generalized view of militarism that crosses all national boundaries. There isn’t a swastika or right-handed salute in sight in this production and the uniforms worn by the Brabantines could just as easily be equated with the military might of any nation. I strongly recommend that you watch the documentary before the opera.

The huge two-piece set swings around elegantly and is beautifully lit in such a way as to suggest great bodies of water, in the Act 3 transition between scenes, and the castle walls in Act 2. The opening of Act 1 slowly illuminates the tiers of seating in such a way that the chorus, sitting quite still, suggests a forest of trees until they are called into action to sing. Lehnhoff allows, indeed requires, the viewer to exercise his imagination rather than smack one in the face with the obvious, as is so often the case. Neither is he so obtuse as to flummox one completely by some “pop” esoteric artsiness – note Christoph Schlingensief’s current production of Parsifal at Bayreuth. The lighting is wonderful, varying from dark and mysterious in Act 2, for Ortrud’s and Telramund’s dark sayings, to brilliantly awash in the large set-pieces with the chorus in the bleachers. Lohengrin himself often appears to glow in his own circle of brilliant white light. Which leads me to the central character in this show.

Klaus Florian Vogt is unquestionably the most unusual-sounding tenor I’ve yet encountered as any Wagner hero. His voice is quite a beautiful lyric tenor and possesses enough weight to carry well. Every time he opened his mouth I was taken aback and often questioned the wisdom of his taking on this or any other Wagner heldentenor role. But by the end of the performance I was completely convinced by his portrayal. I never did quite get used to his sound in a Wagner role but his is the most ethereal, mystical, angelic and convincing Lohengrin I’ve ever seen or heard. He has none of the baritonal undertones of what we normally encounter in this part. He doesn’t bawl or shout or strain for the high notes. His singing seems effortless and he never pushes to be heard. Lehnhoff, ever the stage micro-manager, has found the perfect singer for this production. Vogt’s stiff-kneed walk in Act 1 is indicative of his inhuman-ness and discomfort in a solid body. Vogt also possesses the perfect physique du rôle, being tall, blonde, blue-eyed and quite good-looking, with a sort-of androgynous allure about him that fascinates. All the Brabantines are agog at him, he is their charismatic leader, a creature that we human beings seem perpetually to seek in our lives. He seems too good to be true as well. His cool aloofness towards his beautiful new wife has a sinister element to it that caused me to dislike him in Act 3. I kept muttering to myself “Jumped up little egomaniacal puritan!” as he sat there at his stupid piano, totally self-absorbed, while his wife unties her negligée and attempts to lure him to the nuptial bed. There is no bed in this production by the way. Of course Lohengrin at the piano is probably supposed to be ‘Our Richard’ at work on the score but this doesn’t grate too much as the interaction and acting of the principals is so fascinating that it is easy to ignore the piano and all that it implies.

Vogt’s idiosyncratic but highly successful Lohengrin aside, the vocal honors, in the more traditional ‘Wagnerian Sense’, go to Hans-Peter König’s splendid König Heinrich and Waltraud Meier’s dark dark dark Ortrud. I’ve always thought Ortrud to be Meier’s greatest Wagner role but was never satisfied with her recorded performances, finding her a tad acid-sounding on top and juddery in the middle register. But in this live filmed event she sounds magnificent. The extra space around her voice allows it to ring out freely on top with a full and refulgent middle voice. Meier is one of the greatest actors among all opera singers, at every moment her face and body register a myriad of responses of a mind-boggling subtlety. A great performance. And Meier’s Ortrud is also something of a clothes horse. Her costumes plus her great physical beauty add colourful, indeed flamboyant, interest to a largely utilitarian setting. Hans-Peter König is a newish bass from Germany. He is the current Hagen and Fafner at Bayreuth and seems destined to take over the mantle of Kurt Moll. His voice is beautiful, powerful and wide-ranging, and he too can act, though not with as much confidence, as yet, as Waltraud Meier. König keeps glancing at the pit during his close-ups but with experience and added confidence I think he will be at the top of the bass pile before too long.

Solveig Kringelborn has some very beautiful moments but her voice is not intrinsically lovely, so don’t expect an Elisabeth Grümmer. That notwithstanding hers is another fascinating performance. She is deeply musical, intelligent and beautiful and makes Elsa more than just a cipher. Indeed Lehnhoff has made Elsa the pivotal character, keeping her on stage at all times, sitting on a chair near the lip, perhaps dreaming the whole thing; shades of Harry Kupfer’s Senta at Bayreuth in that famous production from the 1970s. This concept works very well and stimulates thought rather than just annoying the viewer with a misguided directorial conceit. Kringelborn’s is only the partial ninny that Elsa usually appears to be. Rather, she is naïve, strange, intelligent and a bit bossy, making her aggressive questioning of Lohengrin in Act 3 a natural aspect of her personality. Tom Fox is a very good Telramund, over-acting a bit – perhaps at Lehnhoff’s instigation – but sings with power and authority. I look forward to his some day, perhaps, taking on Alberich at Baden-Baden with Kent Nagano.

Nagano possesses the ‘Wagner Gene’ as the saying goes. I wouldn’t have thought it of him years ago but he has shown, with the previous film of Lehnhoff’s Parsifal also from Baden-Baden in 2004 [OA 0915 D] and now this Lohengrin, that he has the measure of these masterpieces and doesn’t falter once. This is a very touchy score with all those high, pianissimo string chordings all over the place and sudden transitions from serenity to bumptious militarism. Nagano makes these gear-changes effortless and his orchestra is superb. The Deutsche Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin is turning into one of the great European orchestras. Their fine performances and recordings of Mahler and Bruckner have prepared them well for their foray into the Wagner pit at Baden-Baden. His chorus is a combination of singers from the Lyon Opéra, his former stomping ground, and the EuropaChor Akademie Mainz. They sing with power, precision and perfect intonation, and not a wobbler in sight – Metropolitan Opera take note! The choristers are encouraged to be individuals. Dressed in modernish clothing, somewhere in the mid-20th century it seems, they manage to create a diverse crowd of citizens without being attention-grabbing or intrusive, though one had to wonder at the guy with the rastafarian locks.

I hesitated buying this film for a couple of months and then it went on sale at Arkiv and I succumbed. I’m very glad I did and I will watch it again, probably many times. Very highly recommended for those not allergic to updated Wagner.

Jeffrey Sarver

MusicWeb-International.com (3)

This production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff has caused some controversy. This is perhaps because of its Nazi references, but also perhaps because of some of its sillier moments: why is Lohengrin playing a piano at one point? Why is he dressed, as one reviewer correctly pointed out, like Liberace as he does so?. In addition, camera work is not always what it could be – the picture jerks rather in the Prelude to Act 1, in visual contradiction to Wagner’s seamless web of sound. Neither is Nagano a true Wagnerian. His Parsifal was wounded by this, and although Lohengrin does not work in the same huge tracts of thought, it nevertheless needs a certain amount of depth – this applies particularly to the last act. Best perhaps are Stephan Braunfels’ sets. Here for once the blurb on the DVD set, which describes them as ‘monumental’, is correct. In addition, there is an austerity that lends Lohengrin a commendable visual depth – the choral scenes in the first act make particular effect.

The Nazi references can easily, it has to be admitted, be overlaid onto Wagner’s surfaces. After all, there are plenty of patriotic references to German Lands in the text. Hans-Peter König has a large voice that lends his Heinrich much authority. He oversees the first acts events with an imperious eye. His men are situated on a large stepped backdrop like a jury.

When he enters, Lohengrin looks rather like a German Biggles. Klaus Florian Vogt, it has to be said, is not the ideal Lohengrin. His voice is rather thin and weak, leaving him in effect a rather poor second to his excellent Elsa, the angelically-clad and –voiced Solveig Kringelborn. His antics at the beginning of Act 3, referred to above, might raise some eyebrows – he sits, looking as if he is composing – correcting a score with a pencil – at a piano. Is he supposed to be Wagner himself composing here?. Vocally, Florian is quite weak in this vital act – especially when he speaks to her about rejecting the King’s crown. It is Kringelborn who is superb, though, and there is a real dramatic shock as she asks the question of his name – the backdrop collapses at this point. She looks devastated in the later stages like a forlorn Act 3 Kundry! As Act 3 progresses to its famous conclusion it becomes clear that Florian has been saving himself. The final monologues – ‘Mein lieber Schwann’ delivered bang centre-stage – reveal a wide dynamic range and a good low register. What a pity we did not get to hear more of this later.

Waltraud Meier excels as Ortrud. She just oozes evil, something which makes her Act 2 scene with Telramund (Tom Fox) all the more believable. Although Fox has a large voice, it is Meier who has all the stage presence. The stage itself gives a sense of space here, so that their isolation is felt all the more keenly. Meier’s greatest moment, though, is at the very close of the opera where she just drips vitriol.

Roman Trekel injects more power than usual to the Herald and the chorus is excellent throughout. Well worth seeing, then, if not as powerfully conducted or, indeed, sung as it could have been.

Colin Clarke

Audiophile Audition

This Lohengrin, recorded for television in 2006 in Baden-Baden, is presented as a “dramatic struggle of masculine and feminine, revenge and compassion.” Yet only the second half of this formula is effective, reflected mainly in the costumes (black and white), scenery, lighting, and excellent acting. To highlight the contrast between Elsa’s innocence, faith, and compassion on one hand and Ortrud’s cunning and deceit on the other, the designer has created a chiaroscuro effect against a deep blue background, which is highly effective.

The purported struggle between the masculine and feminine, however, is presented less successfully. Klaus Florian Vogt as Lohengrin, helmeted and resplendent in a blue-gray suit, appears in a column of light as an unearthly being. He produces a clear, sweet sound with a surprisingly high tessitura, but this is an innocent Lohengrin rather than a heroic one, more poet than warrior, androgynous instead of unequivocally masculine. Elsa, on the other hand, is appropriately vulnerable for the director’s conceit and utterly feminine. Solveig Kringelhorn, who made her debut as Elsa in this production, is a sensitive, innocent soul with startlingly blue eyes. In a clichéd scene in Act 3, the director puts Lohengrin to work composing at the piano while Elsa gazes at him adoringly. The pair has just wed, but Lohengrin is ignoring his bride. Anyone familiar with Wagner’s music dramas will know that this sort of inequality between the sexes was far from the composer’s true intent and is merely an artifice created by the director.

Waltraud Meier as Ortrud moves with the taut and tensile energy of a lioness about to pounce on her prey. Telramund (Tom Fox), the man who will fulfill her ambitions (and pay dearly for them), is a fallen Jedi with a shaved head. Although he has the requisite power to get through the role, his notes sound none too secure. Hans-Peter König as the king is satisfyingly resonant and expressive.

The real hero in this DVD, however, is Kent Nagano’s magnificent conducting. He is thoroughly at home with Wagner’s complex musical texture and conducts in the grand style, with an expansive feeling. The sound is fabulously rich. The documentary by Reiner Moritz is a hodgepodge of comments from the various artists and long excerpts from the DVD we have just seen. The widescreen visual presentation is of high quality and the DTS surround audio puts the viewer in the opera house.

Dalia Geffen | Published on March 31, 2007

Opera Today

The way by swan

What’s outstanding about this Lohengrin is the orchestral playing. It’s so lustrous that it seems to shimmer, hovering as if suspended in some magical atmosphere. Nagano’s conducting evokes such luminous mystery that literal staging would be intrusive.

Fortunately, with Nicholas Lenhoff as director, we are spared the barbarity of kitsch scenery. We all know this is medieval Brabant, but there’s a lot more to the fundamental drama than that. Lohengrin hasn’t come all the way from Montsalvat just to meet Elsa. Fundamental to this drama is the eternal struggle between Good and Evil. The vaguely Cold War imagery evokes the sense of Brabant as a tense, militarized state which might at any moment be annihilated. This alludes to instability and murderous power struggles which created the situation the country is faced with. This court at Brabant “is” a court in the legal sense, where judgement is being made. It’s a political show trial, for Elsa is being framed for a crime she did not commit. An edge of fear and anxiety polarizes this court : tapestries and fripperies would distract. This production, with its clean, uncluttered lines, pares away non essentials, so the music itself is thrown into stark focus, without distraction. It’s the music, and Nagano’s conducting style, that above all defines this performance.

The Prelude seems to rise out of nothingness, creating a translucence which evokes images to come, when Lohengrin, the shining knight, enters is a blinding blaze of light. Nagano’s precision keeps the orchestral textures clean, so the strings really seem to shimmer and the brass to glow. The playing is exquisite, details tellingly focussed, yet there’s real resonance in the strings and winds. It’s important that Nagano manages to bring out this underlying romance and mystery, because it reminds us what’s at stake – Brabant is a symbol of past and future glory, a place where human values can still flourish even though the present is threatened. This level of playing continues throughout, almost competing for prominence with the vocal parts, for motivs like the “Swan” music were so vividly achieved. Indeed, at times I was listening to the orchestration rather than the singing, longingly waiting for the next interlude. But the music is well integrated into the action. The brass in theVorspiel, for example, are bright and animated, seamlessly leading, at the head of the procession, into the Wedding march. The Morgenröte is particularly entrancing, Nagano getting his musicians to paint in sound a wonderful panorama, depicting the scene aglow with sunrise, trumpets shining, flags unfurled, yet never overwhelming with temporal imagery the fundamentally cosmic nature of the drama.

Solvieg Kringelborn is a charming actress, so despite a constrained vocal range, she’s convincing and full of character. This Elsa, human as she is, has no chance of standing up to Ortud’s machinations, especially an Ortrud as complex and powerful as Waltraud Meier. Meier has inhabited this role so long that she’s able to adapt her nuances to suit the spirit of the production. Here she’s surprisingly glamorous, her wildness contrasting seductively with the stiff formality of Brabant. This may not be her finest performance technically, but her experience only adds to the sense of authority she brings to her characterization. No wonder Telramund, no innocent ingénue, is entranced. Tom Fox has thought his role through, for his Telramund is sympathetic, a good man gone astray, seduced, literally, by the “other” world Ortrud represents. The Telramund/Ortrud relationship is in many ways a counterbalance to the Elsa/Lohengrin relationship, so the humanity Fox brings enhances the levels of meaning. For all the honours bestowed n him, Roman Trekel’s Herald is disappointingly one dimensional.

The moment Lohengrin enters is a devastating piece of theatre. The flash of light which announces him is so blinding that it takes some moments for the eye to adjust. How Wagner would have loved that, had he modern technology. At first Klaus Florian Vogt’s portrayal seemed too solid, particularly against the diaphanous, transparent textures in the orchestration. Yet this, too, added to the realisation. Dressed in an improbably shiny suit, he looks like a creature unused to wearing “normal” clothes. His natural habitat is another, more spiritual plane of existence. Much is made of the swan imagery in his music. At times he even looks like a swan turned into a man. Hence, perhaps the gravity of this portrayal, for swans, though graceful, are immensely strong. It’s also an interpretation that relates to the Old Gods Ortrud serves, who are animist, and carnal, forces of nature. At the end, Ortrud, in defeat, appears in a dress made of feathers. This characterisation of Lohengrin, brings out his essential alien quality. He’s so engrossed at the piano he doesn’t notice his bride approach. Elsa can’t fathom his strange emotional makeup, and is so unsettled that she asks the fatal question. Despite his muscular appearance, Vogt’s voice is pure toned and lucid, his In fernem Land, soaring and floating with the orchestra, evoking the vision of a spiritual existence beyond the ken of the physical world.

Most DVDs come these days with a bonus film, most of them afterthoughts put together as an alternative to a booklet. The bonus with this release, however, is actually useful. Each character talks about their interpretation, as do Nagano and Lenhoff. Nagano was and remains a specialist in 20th century music, which is perhaps why his style emphasises the more esoteric, sophisticated aspects of Wagner’s music. This production is so good because it recognises what Nagano is doing. Lenhoff says, in a moment of great insight, that the Prelude is “the first monochromatic music ever written….the best Philip Glass, you know”. This is a very different Lohengrin, but most intriguing.

Anne Ozorio | 2007



Nul ne saurait contester la légitimité wagnérienne de Nikolaus Lehnhoff, qui fut l’assistant de Wieland Wagner au festival de Bayreuth, pas plus que son métier très sûr, qui a concouru par le passé à d’éclatantes réussites scéniques. Force est pourtant de constater que ce Lohengrin, coproduit par le festival de Baden-Baden, l’Opéra national de Lyon et la Scala de Milan, se révèle assez frustrant. Dans les décors monumentaux signés par Stephan Braunfels, architecte renommé de la pinacothèque d’Art moderne de Munich et petit-fils du compositeur de Die Vogel, Lehnhoff peine à imposer une vision novatrice et semble hésiter entre post-wielandisme de bon ton (dans l’inévitable hémicycle si caractéristique du nouveau Bayreuth) et démarquages maladroits (le duo inaugural du troisième acte avec un héros assez niaisement installé à son piano, mais aussi les costumes maladroitement actualisés). L’habileté du metteur en scène est indéniable, et l’acte central fonctionne même assez bien, avec le concours des éclairages de Duane Schuler. Pourtant, l’absence de vision et d’architecture d’ensemble, laissant des scènes entières tourner dans un vide statique, provoquent finalement un certain sentiment d’ennui que nous avions ressenti lors des représentations lyonnaises et qui se trouve amplifié par une captation abusant de gros plans.

Dans ces conditions, l’intérêt de la représentation repose sur les épaules de la distribution, et ici les résultats sont mitigés. Placée au centre d’une production qui a pour objectif affiché de souligner sa solitude, Elsa trouve en Solveig Kringelborn une interprète honorablement chantante, dans une blondeur wagnérienne assez générique, mais dont le jeu scolaire et les expressions convenues ne résistent pas à la caméra. Nouveau venu parmi les basses wagnériennes, Hans Peter König impose un instrument solide et homogène, quoiqu’un peu mat de timbre, et nous offre un Oiseleur placide mais de bonne facture. Roman Trekel semble en revanche peiner dans une tessiture sans doute un peu trop basse pour lui. Les plus grandes satisfactions nous arrivent en définitive, comme c’est assez souvent du reste, du couple maléfique. Waltraud Meier, au sommet de sa beauté et de son art, surmonte le ridicule de son costume de Cruella au premier acte, pour lancer les imprécations d’Ortrud avec une santé et un impact exceptionnels. Parfaite actrice, elle nous fascine réellement à chaque plan. Malgré une sensible usure vocale, Tom Fox impressionne encore par la concentration de son jeu et par la noirceur naturelle de ses moyens.

Reste un sujet qui a partagé la presse : l’interprétation du rôle titre par Klaus Florian Vogt. Nous sommes incontestablement séduits à son apparition par ce héros juvénile, personnage rendu surnaturel par un chant allégé, étréci jusqu’à l’extrême. Malheureusement, cette option, appliquée à toute la représentation, trouve rapidement ses limites et l’être surnaturel, confiné dans des poses statiques, prend rapidement des allures de benêt, dépourvu de consistance scénique. Surtout, au troisième acte, lorsque In fernem Land sollicite l’héroïsme du chevalier, l’interprète semble incapable d’enclencher la vitesse supérieure et nous laisse cruellement sur notre faim. A l’écoute de l’accueil triomphal réservé au ténor par le public festivalier, on peut penser qu’une certaine magie instantanée a fonctionné en juin dernier, mais elle n’a pas résisté à la captation.

A la tête de forces orchestrales et chorales de qualité, Kent Nagano ne parvient pas, lui non plus, à imposer une réelle vision de l’ouvrage, plus inspiré par les passages chambristes et romantiques de la partition que par ses moments d’intensité, où sa lecture demeure molle et parfois brouillonne. De bons ingrédients ne suffisent pas à faire une grande recette…

Vincent Deloge | Le 11 avril 2007

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