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Thread: Lohengrin at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin, Germany

          
   
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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Lohengrin at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin, Germany

    Lohengrin at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Berlin, Germany

    Lohengrin is an opera in three acts written and composed by Richard Wagner, which had its premiere in Weimar, Germany, in 1850, conducted by Franz Liszt.

    This review is for the performance of Sunday, 19 April, 2015.

    Conductor: Donald Runnicles
    Director: Kasper Holten
    Staging: Steffen Aarfing
    Chorus: William Spaulding

    Cast

    Heinrich der Vogler: Günther Groissböck
    Lohengrin: Klaus Florian Vogt
    Elsa von Brabant: Anja Harteros
    Friedrich von Telramund: John Lundgren
    Herald: Bastiaan Everink
    Ortrud: Waltraud Meier
    et al.

    I was in heaven. Lohengrin was the final and most recently attended of the operas we saw, so is freshest in mind. It is an opera of just incredible beauty - it might well be my favorite Wagner opera (well, today, anyway...) and with a dream cast. I didn't want it to end. I especially didn't want it to end the way it did, but more on that later. The production, by Kasper Holten, premiered in 2012 and generally follows a traditional trajectory, but with one serious twist.

    Prelude

    The orchestra, conducted by Donald Runnicles, was in superb form. The horns, the exquisite string playing necessary to set the mood, all were in top form. As the Prelude commenced, the curtain opened on the stage littered with dead soldiers, dressed in uniforms of a number of different wars including, to my eye, the Franco-Prussian and World War I (but not WW II). Several women walked out and start searching the bodies for their loved ones. One of the women finds who she is searching for and lets out a scream and her companions help escort her from the stage. Curtain.

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    Act I

    The Prelude finishes and the curtain re-opens on the soldiers now standing and waiting as Heinrich der Vogler (Henry the Fowler) makes his entrance. His appearance was announced by the Herald, Bastiaan Everink, who had a profound bass voice, that hinted at the quality of the singing yet to come. Heinrich had been scheduled to be sung by Albert Pesendorfer, whom I believe is a Deutsche Oper ensemble member, but the program included a note to the effect that he was ill (erkranken) and, lucky us, was replaced by Günther Groissböck. Wow. Groissböck is tall and displayed an appropriately imperious manner and sang equally imperiously and with another profound bass and without seeming effort. When Elsa, Anja Harteros, is summoned to the Council, her first notes suggested something of either an off-night or a struggle with the role. Harteros does, however, have enormous stage presence and did better as her voice seemed to warm up. Throughout Elsa's trial, Ortrud (Waltraud Meier), who really doesn't have much to sing in the first act, spends her time cozying up to Telramund, whispering in his ear and twisting at strands of her hair; the epitome of the wicked stepmother/villain. Yikes.

    When Lohengrin makes his entrance, despite the huge white wings he wears,


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    KFV's singing was so riveting that I didn't stop to think that the wings might look ridiculous. Then again, the music is so well conceived that even the overdone symbolism of Lohengrin as angel/guardian angel still fit exceedingly well. Vogt sang, well, angelically, and with such authority and total sincerity, even from the beginning of his entrance in the first act, that I could feel myself choking up. The chorus was every bit as good as the soloists, as is critical in this piece and sang stunningly well.

    Act II

    Act II continued this powerhouse of a performance. Waltraud Meier still sings with beautiful tone and a totally commanding stage presence. Her conniving with the weak-willed, but really well-sung and acted Friedrich von Telramund (John Lundgren) beneath a huge suspended cross, was amazing. Meier's sycophantic cowering when chancing upon the unsuspecting and innocent Elsa was breathtaking.

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    Anja Harteros remained convincing as Elsa, but continued to struggle with the highest notes. While she still was really good, even powerful, hers was probably the one near let down in this superb cast. The scene ends with the wedding all set up for Act III:


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    Act III

    Wonderful Act III prelude, leading up to the wedding procession. The entire wedding night scene with a tender Lohengrin trying to dissuade the determined Elsa from her destructive course was heartrending. [As you know], he tries, but fails to convince Elsa that her insisting on knowing his origins will be disastrous. Klaus Florian Vogt, in the third act, still was singing without apparent effort, maintaining his sweetly heroic tenor with jaw-dropping accuracy. His 'In fernem Land' raised goosebumps, while Elsa, listening, suddenly seemed to become aware of just what she'd done. As 'Land' begins to wind down, Lohengrin is gradually surrounded by the chorus in full beatific mode.


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    The downside to the production now is upon us. The swan appears as a projection against the backdrop and, as the event that kidnapped Gottfried is described, Elsa, who had stepped away, returns with a body wrapped in a bloody blanket. She lays the body on the wedding bed, now bier, and unwraps it to reveal the dead, bloody Gottfried. Elsa and Ortrud are still alive and standing as the music ends and the curtain comes down.

    The audience sat in stunned silence. The production which, with some twists, was otherwise true to the libretto, suddenly robbed us of Wagner's ecstatic ending and swapped a total downer on the unsuspecting audience. No handsome Gottfried in shining armor to save the day for Brabant, just a dead child to serve them up for, I suppose, turning on their angel. The audience came around, of course, delirious (myself included) because the performance was so amazing. If only the Director had ... Oh well.

    More, please.

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Nice that you enjoyed the singing and I envy you for seeing Waltraud Meier live... But yes, the worst possible kind of Regie is the "altered-ending" Regie. At least if there is a concept driving the piece, sometimes it is good. But right at the end, dropping a rotten egg like this with a changed ending profoundly irritates me.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Excellent review; sounds like an interesting production. I'd have to see it all in context to know for sure how I'd feel about the ending.

    Is that the wrong photo of Waltraud Meier? Looks like it's from Nikolaus Lehnhoff's production.

  5. #4
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amfortas View Post
    Excellent review; sounds like an interesting production. I'd have to see it all in context to know for sure how I'd feel about the ending.

    Is that the wrong photo of Waltraud Meier? Looks like it's from Nikolaus Lehnhoff's production.

    You might be right. The photo, from Google Images, looks very close to the make up and costume she was wearing the evening of the performance I saw.

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