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Saturday, March 3, 2007

DVD Review: Lohengrin: The Silver Savior

Keeping up with the Telramunds: Waltraud Meier and Tom Fox in Lohengrin. © 2007 OpusArte
Director Nikolaus Lehnhoff brings a fresh look to Wagner's famous Romantic opera in this bold production of Lohengrin, filmed in Baden-Baden with Kent Nagano on the podium directing the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. Yes, the usual silver and blue background is present, used by directors ranging from Wieland Wagner to Robert Wilson. But the stiff acting and slow pace that can bog this opera down (especially in the second act) are nowhere to be found. Rather, this is a nuanced performance--a Lohengrin of dramatic subtlety.

Lehnhoff has chosen to set this opera in a repressive society. Everyone is in proper Ascot-style suits or military uniforms, except Lohengrin himself. Played by the exceptional young tenor Klaus Florian Vogt, the swan knight arrives without a boat, or even a swan. Rather, he's just another face in the crowd, one in an Italian cut, silver three-piece suit, matching tie, duelling saber and dorky helmet. Vogt is blessed with a fluid tenor that soars against Nagano's conducting, singing with the blend of nuance and power that is needed in this role. And he opens the pipes full blast for the big heroic moments, delivering a ringing "In fernem land," the opera's most famous aria.

He is evenly matched by the superb Elsa of Solveig Kringelborn, a physical and vocal fit for this role--and a good actress.. Elsa is often reduced to a still figure looking anxious for three acts. Kringelborn throws herself into a physical, edgy performance that's uncomfortable for the audience--is this fragile girl is really off the rails in the first act? She grows and matures, however, as the opera continues. Although she is dominated thoroughly in Act II by Waltraud Meier's superbly bitchy Ortrud, she is a strong, even match for Lohengrin in the bridal chamber scene, and a picture of shattered isolation in the latter half of the third act.

Speaking of that Act Three opening, the director chose to skip the usual "giant bed" and instead substitute a baby grand piano in front of a huge blue arris curtain. There, Lohengrin can be seen obsessing over the composition of the Bridal Chorus rather than paying attention to his brand new wife. This is a typical "male moment," and a funny comment on Lohengrin as the lone "creative type" in the repressive society of Wagner's Brabant. That society, is represented by a round, arena-like setting. With the simple drop of a curtain, the bridal chamber reverts back to the stadium set. Nothing fancy, and all the more effective in its simplicity.

That famous married couple: the Telramunds are in the excellent hands of Waltraud Meier and veteran baritone Tom Fox. Neither is any stranger to Wagner--Fox has been recording since the 1960s, and Meier is the finest Kundry of the last 25 years. They rock the house in their Act II duet, with Meier channeling the great Wagner divas of the past, mixed with notes of Gloria Swanson and the Wicked Witch. And those dead-animal headpieces are just fabulous, darling.

Hans-Peter K├Ânig is a round-voiced, fatherly King Heinrich, Roman Trekel a stentorian Herald. The choral forces--so important in this particular opera--are brilliant. The DVD, directed by Thomas Grimm, successfully captures the characters' nuance and depth with solid editing and well-timed close-ups.
Photos © 2007 OpusArte

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.