Lohengrin

Andris Nelsons
Chor und Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
Date/Location
14 August 2011
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
Heinrich der VoglerGeorg Zeppenfeld
LohengrinKlaus Florian Vogt
Elsa von BrabantAnnette Dasch
Friedrich von TelramudJukka Rasilainen
OrtrudPetra Lang
Der Heerrufer des KönigsSamuel Youn
Vier brabantische EdleStefan Heibach
Willem van der Heyden
Rainer Zaun
Christian Tschelebiew
Stage directorHans Neuenfels
Set designerReinhard von der Thannen
TV directorMichael Beyer
Gallery
Mostly Opera

Lohengrin as a laboratory rat experiment. Not as silly as it may sound. In fact, director Hans Neuenfels has created a vastly interesting as well as moving production of Lohengrin – conceptually by far the most interesting available on DVD and probably the overall most interesting I have yet seen.

We are inside a white laboratory. The people are rats. The protagonists seem to be super-rats. Or perhaps not all of them. Lohengrin, who struggles in vain to enter the lab during the vorspiel, and Telramund, whose narration is accompanied by a projection of “wahrheit” may have be placed in the lab as part of the experiment to see what reactions they provoke. Or maybe not. Because nothing is entirely clear in this challenging production. The lab technicians seem to be always in control, entering and exiting the laboratory manipulating with the rats.

Black-white, action-reaction, the people are rats and they are followers. And they chose to follow Lohengrin, gradually changing their rat-like appearance into human shape. And who should Elsa follow? Brought in by the rats, covered in arrows, she takes shape according to her surroundings – rats, swan, Lohengrin. Love is not an ingredience in this experiment.

A tilted wagon, a dead horse, rats escapint with gold bars and money: Ortrud and Telramund are caught by the rats when trying to escape. But why exactly Telramud becomes a rat after his failed attempt to kill Lohengrin is less clear to me. And who is this Schützer von Braband? An embryon capping his umbilical chord. As a reaction to the experiment, perhaps?

Lohengrin as an experiment of how we react to authorities. Not at all uninterersting, as a matter of fact probably the conceptually most interesting Lohengrin I have seen to date as it captures the primitive action-reaction, hero-antihero as well as black-white patterns somehow inherent in the plot. The sets are aesthetic, the colours are clear and beautiful. The answers are by no means obvious and this multilayered production probably requires repeated viewings by most to capture the essence. Whatever that may be perceived to be.

When the production opened in 2009 Jonas Kaufmann was Lohengrin. In 2010 Klaus Florian Vogt took over the role and this is thus his second Lohengrin on DVD. With clear ringing notes Klaus Florian Vogt is superb, a “tenorial” Lohengrin far from the sound we have been used to from Plácido Domingo as well as Jonas Kaufmann, and both vocally and physically perfectly suited to this production. He may even have lost some of his eeriness these past few years giving place for a rather human interpretation.

Unfortunately Annette Dasch is by no means a first-rate Elsa. Unable to sustain a legato line, often out of breath, shrill and with no bloom and warmth in her tone. That she looks fabulous capturing the essence of eery passivity that Neuenfels undoubtedly wanted does unfortunately not outweigh her vocal short-comings.

As Telramund Jukka Rasilainen has the appearance but not quite the voice, while Petra Lang is a better Ortrud than almost anyone else I can think of today.

Accompanied by a swift and spirited performance from Andris Nelsons, this DVD is a must for those interested in contemporary performances of Richard Wagner´s work. Though for those less familiar with the work probably Lehnhoff´s aesthetic, rather straight-forward production from 2006 may be an all-round better choice. Or even the Claudio Abbado conducted 1990 production from Vienna – visually dreary but musically superb.

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

Klaus Florian Vogt: 5
Annette Dasch: 2
Petra Lang: 4
Jukka Rasilainen: 4
Georg Zeppenfeld: 4

Andris Nelsons: 4
Neuenfels production: 5

Overall impression: 4

Opera News

Everybody has heard about the rats by now. In the Hans Neuenfels production of Lohengrin, first seen at Bayreuth in 2010 and filmed for DVD in 2011, the members of the chorus are all lab rats subjected to scientific experiments. The costumes, by Reinhard von der Thannen, are all color-coded. The gentlemen are black rats, the ladies are white, and everyone has red eyes. The prospect of Lohengrin’s duel with Telramund brings a change to natty yellow suits for all, set off by snappy yellow boaters. Lohengrin’s arrival humanizes the rats, except for their hands and feet, but his victory causes them to move in militaristic lockstep formations. By the end of the opera the chorus has become an entirely human army — loyal not to their homeland of Brabant but to Lohengrin. The experiment, it seems, is the introduction of Lohengrin into this specific ecosystem, and the allegory, it seems, is the rise of a charismatic leader who achieves cult leadership with unintended consequences.

In this final result, the Neuenfels conception is coincidently similar to the Richard Jones Lohengrin in Munich, which ends with the mass suicide of the chorus. But the Neuenfels production is ultimately much more interesting for another story it tells. Neuenfels does not see the plot as driven by Ortrud’s ambition for her husband. He has recast the story to show that everything is a result of Ortrud’s jealousy of Elsa. Lohengrin’s devotion to Elsa is causing her to mutate into a swan. She is always in white, until the final scene. Her wedding dress is a gigantic hoop skirt of swan feathers; after the big day is ruined she is reduced to pitiful broken-wing gestures. (The male rats don tuxedos for Elsa’s wedding. Her attendants are adorable pink mice.) Ortrud, on the other hand, is in black until the final scene, and she attends the wedding in a giant black knock-off of the swan dress. By the finale, when she thinks she has triumphed, she has dressed herself in a hideous parody of the white ensemble Elsa wore in Act I, to which she has added her own shabby little white crown.

Not all of Neuenfels’s ideas are carried through, and not all of them withstand a great deal of analysis. (A dramaturge and a conceptual collaborator are also credited.) Three computer-generated video animations by Björn Verloh, shown during the three preludes, muddy the interpretive waters with such images as a horde of bloodthirsty rats who gnaw a pit bull down to its skeleton. There’s also a certain amount of humor. Although humor is a much-ignored aspect of Wagner’s operas, Lohengrin is the only one that lacks it. On the other hand, religion is a primary aspect of the libretto, and Neuenfels sidesteps it except for a brief moment at the end of Act II.

But there is a far bigger question hanging over the Bayreuth festival, which is now codirected by two of Wagner’s great-granddaughters. In our day there are dozens of productions that have engaged with Wagner’s librettos. There are also many productions that engage with the performance history of the work at hand, which is a much more recent development. The current Bayreuth Parsifal, directed by Stefan Herheim, is one of them, as is Katharina Wagner’s Bayreuth Meistersinger. Far fewer productions, however, engage with Wagner’s music. Bayreuth’s previous Parsifal, directed by Christoph Schlingensief, was one that did, and Ms. Wagner’s Meistersinger was another. It’s hard to find a single moment when Neuenfels engages with the music, and, along with so much else about the production, that is something to ponder.

The music is in the hands of the young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons. He tends to rush through fermatas, and he probably has not found all of the eerie orchestral colors in the section preceding the unison conclusion of the Ortrud– Telramund duet. But he may be seconding the particular production onstage, and the sonics recorded from Bayreuth’s covered orchestra pit are perhaps determined more by the engineers than by the conductor. The Lohengrin and Elsa, Klaus Florian Vogt and Annette Dasch, are the same as on Marek Janowski’s recent CD recording. His pure-toned Eagle Scout singing is similar here, but she brings more detailed phrasing and a gift for storytelling to this version, and her face is alive at every moment. Masks or no masks, Eberhard Friedrich’s Bayreuth chorus is the musical highlight of the performance.

WILLIAM R. BRAUN | OCTOBER 2012 — VOL. 77, NO. 4

classical-music.com

I found this Bayreuth production so outrageous, indeed disgusting, that it’s hard to know in what terms to review it. If the recording of the live performance had been on CD, I would have been mainly enthusiastic. Andris Nelsons is the most promising Wagner conductor I have heard for a long time, and his account of this glowing, radiant score is broad. The singing is good, too, with a lovely Elsa from Annette Dasch, and a Lohengrin who has magnificent moments, even if he can sound like a strangulated English tenor. Klaus Florian Vogt is sometimes compared to a choirboy, and he does indulge in ethereality. That suits quite a lot of this role, and when he needs to produce something approaching heroic tone he can. Petra Lang is a villainess, with an enormous and not always reliable voice; her companion, the influenceable Telramund, is the rich-voiced Jukka Rasilainen. And whatever else is wrong, the chorus is superb.

In an interview Hans Neuenfels, the director, says he wants Lohengrin to be funny, witty, light. To that end we see, during the heavenly prelude, a rat race, ever-increasing numbers of rodents dashing across a screen – they’re animated images. But the chorus are black rats in Act I, and at their least rodent-like the females still sport long tails hanging out of their satin dresses. At the end, the boy Gottfried emerges from an egg, and is the most repulsive thing I have seen on a stage: a man-sized embryo, veiny and still blood-smeared, who tugs at his umbilical cord and throws bits of it to the rats. Elsa is a swan – we are told that because she loves a man who should arrive on one, she becomes one. And so on.

Michael Tanner | 3 October 2012

MusicWeb-International.com

I saw Hans Neuenfels’s rat-infested vision of Lohengrin again soon after reviewing the re-release by Arthaus Musik of the 1990 traditional Vienna State Opera staging. This made me appreciate it even more than the grudging acceptance I gave to this staging during its first two years at Bayreuth. To be honest, as a film experience it is better than atheatrical one because there are moments, magnified through the screen, that will be missed unless you are sitting in the first few rows of the Festspielhaus. I pondered why Lohengrin – who is shown trying to get through some doors during the Prelude to Act I – offers kisses to them before they eventually open for him. Later Telramund is shown bound to the overturned carriage that is seen at the start of Act II. From all the belongings strewn around it some of Neuenfels’s ‘rats’ are making off with wads of notes. As I wrote about this revival last summer: ‘It dawned on me more than ever before that I do not come to Bayreuth for answers, only for more questions I cannot really find the answers to.’

Neuenfels’s imaginatively uses members of the chorus as black and white rats. In their second year, they seemed to be getting the upper hand – perhaps it is Rise of the Planet of the Rats? It is the black male rats – often with glowing red eyes, long fingers and toes – that greet King Henry at the start of the opera. They shed their outer-rat persona when Lohengrin is first sighted and are now dressed in canary yellow. Their female counterparts are in wedding dresses of a variety of pastel shades and lavish hats. The rats remove their outer ‘skin’, they are collected and put on hooks to rise high above the stage. We now see this from a camera high up above the Festspielhaus stage. Much the same happens to the caged male rats in Act II before the wedding preparations. They return later with a bald pate and appearance made famous by a British music hall star of yesteryear called Max Wall. As it all unfolded before me a second time last summer, the appearances of a cute gaggle of small pink rats in Acts II and III generated ‘Oohs and Aahs’ of appreciation from the theatre audience. It seemed to be making this Bayreuth’s answer to a popular Disney musical.

The great British stage director, Richard Jones, once replied when asked to explain what an opera production of his meant, ‘Well, what does it mean to you?’. I am not sure what Neuenfels wants me to think and it increasingly matters less and less to me. I have still not entirely worked out the significance of the three ‘Wahrheit’ (Truth) animations that are seen from time to time but even these were not the distraction they seemed before. Here on the DVD they are shown over the Preludes and are available separately in the ‘Extra Features’ that also includes a few short interviews with Katharina Wagner, Hans Neuenfels, Klaus Florian Vogt and Annette Dasch.

In Act III the rats’ heads are merely helmets and the men and women are in uniforms with ‘L’ on the front and a swan silhouette on the back – all now have bald heads. Another question is how do they know his name is Lohengrin as he has not told anyone yet? At the end of the Act I high above the stage a plucked swan was seen and I wondered why? The answer to what became of its feathers comes when a black boat/half-an-egg rises full of feathers out of the bridal bed as Elsa imagines its return at ‘Doch, dort – der Schwan – der Schwan!’ Elsa later appears as if in mourning and totally distraught though she soon strips and gets to grips with Lohengrin but it is all too late for them both. The egg returns and is ‘cradling’ her lost brother, Gottfried, who will become the new ruler of Brabant. In this case he is like the result of some gruesome genetic experiment gone wrong as he tears apart his umbilical cord and frees himself. Lohengrin wanders to the front of the stage and continues even after the music stops and the curtains close.

The flexible camerawork focuses on all these pivotal moments of Neuenfels’s Konzept … and much more. Samuel Youn is an imposing Herald and though eschewing all sense of majesty in a portrayal of King Henry as fitful and neurotic, Georg Zeppenfeld is equally excellent. Jukka Rasilainen impresses as the weak-willed Telramund, who has no hope of being good enough to bring Ortrud the power she craves. Petra Lang is surely the best of the all the current Ortruds. It is wonderful to have her assumption on DVD for the first time here. Melodramatic possibly, cajoling, manipulative and Machiavellian certainly, her incredible vocal range is never heard to more thrilling effect than in her demands for revenge in Act II – ‘Entweihte Götter! Helft jetzt meiner Rache!’ This is clear evidence – if any is necessary – that her forthcoming role debuts as Brünnhilde should not be missed.

Annette Dasch was very good as the troubled and ‘wounded’ Elsa with her pliant soprano voice only occasionally sounding possibly a little too small for Wagner. Klaus Florian Vogt is a wonderfully laidback Lohengrin. Mostly he sings with his typical incredible ease, impeccable phrasing, eloquence, delicate pianissimos, and flute-like tones. However the camera does not lie and it reveals that even he finds his Act III ‘Grail Narration’ rather more challenging than it appears from the back of the stalls. Andris Nelsons got the measure ofLohengrin in the second year and here is evidence of a supple performance, rich in detail, and with each act’s long dramatic span being impeccably sustained, allowing for climaxes as thrilling as could be hoped for.

Post-Wolfgang Wagner Bayreuth has its critics but this Lohengrin – and the Stefan Herheim 2008 Parsifal that will be broadcast and recorded this summer – shows it at its very best. I strongly commend this DVD to those who want to know what is current at Bayreuth … or to those who have seen it in the Festspielhaus or on TV and want to relive it.

Jim Pritchard

Online Musik Magazin

Liebe im Labor – das Lohengrin-Experiment

Die Ratte ist kein Tier. Sie ist ein Symbol. Als solches taugt sie für die Literatur, also auch für die Opernbühne. Fast wundert es, dass nicht schon eher ein Regisseur auf diese Idee gekommen ist. Hans Neuenfels, anerkannter Provokateur des Regietheaters, hat sie aufgegriffen für seine Bayreuther Inszenierung des Lohengrin. Gemeinsam mit Bühnenbildner Reinhard von der Thannen zeigt er die tragische Oper um das Frageverbot als Laborsituation in klinisch-kühlen, hell durchleuchteten Räumen. Die Nager sind die Versuchstiere. Doch sie sind nicht naturalistisch dargestellt. Die Rattenkostüme des Chors haben blickdurchlässige Köpfe, sodass sie wirken wie bei einer Röntgenaufnahme. Damit ist klar: Hier wird experimentiert und seziert, die Emotionen wie unter einem Mikroskop beobachtet. Es herrscht eine Atmosphäre wie in einer Tomografieröhre.

Als die Inszenierung im vergangenen Jahr Premiere am Grünen Hügel feierte, war die Aufregung groß. Allerhand Tiere ist man bei Wagner gewöhnt – doch Ratten? Das war neu und vor allem unbehaglich. Die Folge: Irritation, verhaltener Beifall und lustvolle Buhrufe. Hätte es bei diesem Regisseur jedoch nichts zum Aufregen gegeben, wäre das Publikum sicherlich auch enttäuscht gewesen.

Zur Neuaufnahme der Produktion ist die Empörung längst gewichen. Wen es nicht schon im Premierensommer gepackt hat, der schaut dieses Mal genauer hin. Und wie viel gibt es da noch zu entdecken in den beziehungsreichen und hochästhetischen Bildern. Die Sensation besteht in diesem Jahr aber nicht in der Regie, sondern in der musikalischen Ausführung. Denn diese besticht mit einer großen Leistung aller Beteiligten und dem glänzenden Debut von Klaus Florian Vogt als Lohengrin. Frenetisch feiert das Publikum die Aufführung, die erstmals in der Geschichte der Festspiele von Arte live nach Deutschland und Frankreich und von einem japanischen Sender in sein Heimatland übertragen wird. Zudem gibt es ein Public Viewing auf dem Volksfestplatz in Bayreuth. Dort durchkreuzt allerdings ein heftiges Gewitter die Open-air-Veranstaltung, es behindert auch zeitweise die Live-Übertragung im Fernsehen. Das Publikum im Festspielhaus bleibt davon freilich ungestört. Dort gibt es erst zum Schluss den Sturm: Einen donnernden Applaus. Standing Ovations, Klatsch- und Stampfrhythmen setzen ein, als Vogt vor den Vorhang tritt. Und da das Publikum nun einmal dabei ist, feiert es daraufhin die gesamte Aufführung mit dem außerordentlichen Beifall im Stehen. Vergrößerung in neuem Fenster Unwiderstehliche Stimme des Zweifels: Petra Lang bildet als Ortrud den düsteren Gegenpart zu Annette Dasch als Elsa. Neuenfels dekliniert sein Regiekonzept konsequent durch. Die Ratten wollen zu Menschen werden. Darin scheinen sie durchaus voranzukommen, wenn sie ihre Tierhaut ablegen und stolz menschliche Anzüge, Hüte und Kleider tragen. Doch das hoffnungsvolle Entwicklungsprojekt unter Leitung des Schwanenritters scheitert. Eine Frage zuviel und Lohengrin muss dem Volk sagen „Sorry, es klappt jetzt doch nicht, ich muss gehen.“ Das ist bitter. Als traurige Oper hat Wagner sein Werk einst selbst bezeichnet. Doch bei Neuenfels geht es auch lustig zu. Die Ratten changieren ohnehin zur Bilderwelt des Comics, und in gewissen Momenten darf bei ihren Auftritten auch so etwas wie Slapstick aufblitzen. Bewusst setzt der Regisseur seine Kontrapunkte zur schwelgenden und aufbrausenden Musik, zu Kriegsgetöse und Heil-Rufen. Und den Schwan, den gibt es auch zu sehen. Der wird von den emsigen Nagern in einer schwarzen Schale hereingetragen. Diese sieht aus wie das Unterteil von einem Sarg oder von einem übergroßer Bräter, was für ein Federvieh ja ungefähr das gleiche ist. Dementsprechend wird das verehrte Tier auch alsbald gerupft von der Decke hängen. Auch Elsa muss bereits vor der Hochzeit Federn lassen. In der Szene vor dem Münster tritt sie im weißen Schwanenkleid auf und sieht sich den massiven Attacken von Ortrud ausgesetzt, die im identischen schwarzen Kleid als ihr Gegenpart über die Bühne stürmt.

Mit seiner Inszenierung bietet Neuenfels vor allem auch gekonntes Regiehandwerk und kann dabei auf starke darstellerische und stimmliche Präsenz der Sänger zählen. Ein intensives Stück Personenführung gelingt im Brautgemach. Natürlich handelt es sich um eine Versuchsanordnung, das Ehebett steht bereit, das Liebespaar ist in weiße Kittel gehüllt. Packend entfalten Klaus Florian Vogt und Annette Dasch diese Szene und erweisen sich optisch zweifellos als Traumpaar. Wirkte die Sopranistin in den ersten beiden Aufzügen zwar versiert aber noch etwas angespannt und nicht sehr variabel in der Gestaltung, kann sie jetzt mit schön gefärbter lyrischer Stimme und empfindsamen Sequenzen überzeugen. Auch die dramatischen Passagen gelingen intensiv, nur gelegentlich gelangt die Solistin hier an ihre Grenzen. An manch einer Stelle könnte sie die Stimme und den Umgang mit dem Text noch ausdrucksstärker bündeln. Vogt entwickelt die Titelpartie mit seinem frischen, jugendlichen Tenor völlig unverkrampft und sehr nuancenreich. Dabei beweist er kultivierte Stimmführung und sehr genaue Diktion. Seine helle, leuchtende Stimme ohne baritonale Färbung ist vielleicht nicht die übliche Besetzung für die Heldentenor-Partie, aber doch gerade passend für diese Figur aus fernen Sphären. Vogt lässt immer wieder ein reines, stets gehaltvolles und somit berückendes Piano hören und bietet ebenso Passagen von strahlender Durchschlagskraft. Scheinbar mühelos führt er die umfangreiche Partie aus und verfügt auch noch in der Gralserzählung über genügend Energie und Feinsinn – ein fulminantes Debut als Lohengrin am Grünen Hügel.

Das übrige Ensemble trägt ebenso zu einer hochwertigen musikalischen Umsetzung bei. Georg Zeppenfeld verkörpert in der Inszenierung sehr treffend einen debilen König und überzeugt gesanglich mit seinem präsenten, warm getönten und flexiblen Bassbariton. Jukka Rasilainen, der kurzfristig für Tòmas Tomasson die Rolle des Telramund übernommen hat, zeichnet mit leicht dunklem Timbre stimmig den Groll eines enttäuschten Charakters. An Bühnenpräsenz und abgründigem Ton wird er von Petra Lang als Ortrud noch weit übertroffen. Bei ihren böse funkelnden, tückisch verführerischen Einlassungen vermag sie stets noch überaus intensiven Stimmklang zu entfalten. Samuel Youn agiert verlässlich mit kräftiger metallischer Stimme als Heerrufer.

Dazu liefert der Festspielchor wie gewohnt klangvolle, differenzierte Ausführung. Unstimmigkeiten sind nur im 1. Aufzug zu hören. Nachdem das A-capella-Quintett der Solisten intonatorisch wackelig geraten war, setzt der Chor unsicher ein und stimmt auch rhythmisch nicht so recht mit dem Orchester zusammen. Hilfreich wäre es sicherlich, wenn das Dirigat von Andris Nelsons hier noch stärker die Führung übernähme und auch gelegentlich noch deutlichere Akzente setzte. Im Vorspiel flattern die sphärischen Streicherklänge anfangs noch eigentümlich unentschlossen. Insgesamt entfaltet Nelsons die Partitur klar und kraftvoll, leicht expressiv, doch vor allem sehr ausgewogen. Der junge lettische Dirigent setzt frische, stimmige Tempi an, lässt das Orchester große dynamische Bandbreite entwickeln und hält die Musik frei von mystischen Schlacken. Eine durchweg hochwertige und berührende Aufführung fügt sich da zusammen. So lautet der Laborbefund: Experiment gelungen.

FAZIT Nachdem sich die Aufregung gelegt hat, erweist sich die Inszenierung von Hans Neuenfels im zweiten Jahr um so mehr als packend und beziehungsreich. Die Produktion trumpft mit glänzender Sängerleistung auf. Klaus Florian Vogt sorgt für Begeisterungsstürme mit seinem Bayreuth-Debut als Lohengrin.

Meike Nordmeyer | Rezensierte Aufführung: 14.8.2011 – 4. Aufführung

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