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Saturday, June 30, 2018

No One is Coming to Save Elsa

Tenor Roberto Alagna pulls out of Lohengrin.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The next swan will not be arriving for Roberto Alagna, who is out of the new Bayreuth Lohengrin.

In a breaking story from the Bayreuth Festival, tenor Roberto Alagna will not be singing the title role in the company's production of Lohengrin. His excuse: insufficient rehearsal. According to the official statement on the Bayreuth Festspieleblog: "Mr. Alagna has to cancel the new  Lohengrin production because he was unable to rehearse the work sufficiently due to congestion."

Mr. Alagna is well known around the world as a specialist in French and Italian opera, but he doesn't really perform much in German. This production would have marked his debut at Bayreuth and his first major German stage role. Lohengrin is the story of an anonymous knight who arrives at a fortuitous moment by swan-drawn boat to save Elsa von Brabant from a death sentence. He fights for her in single combat, wins her hand in marriage but adds a codicil: that she may never ask him his name or his origins. This proves too much for his bride, and he departs, sorrowfully at the opera's end. It's funny how life mirrors art, isn't it?

The news comes roughly a month before the venerated Wagner festival opens. Bayreuth is almost a holy place for lovers of opera. To this date, the Festival is still controlled by members of the Wagner family. Performances are held in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, a theater designed and purpose-built by the composer himself.) Among its many qualities are crystalline sound, an orchestra hidden from the view of the audience (in a so-called "mystic chasm" underneath the massive stage) and a lack of air conditioning: the last an essential in confronting hot Franconian summers.

This is a new staging of Lohengrin under the baton of Christian Thielemann, the German conductor who has in recent years acted as the de facto music director of the Bayreuth pit. It is by Yval Sharon, and replaces a controversial staging by Hans Neuenfels that imagined almost all the characters in Wagner's operas as anthropomorphic rats trapped in some sort of dreadful experiment.

Happily, according to the Festival's blog, the tenor Klaus Florian Vogt (reviewed recently in these pages in the title role of Wagner's Parsifal) is on the Green Hill to sing Walther von Stolzing in Die Meistersinger. As an experienced tenor with the right fach for the part, Mr. Vogt would make an efficacious replacement as Lohengrin.

Mr. Alagna is scheduled to open the Metropolitan Opera season in September as Samson in Camille Saint-Säens' opera Samson et Dalila. This much ballyhooed new production will reunite him with his old stage partner mezzo Elina Garança in the Biblical tale of love, deception and a famous haircut. Let's hope he knows the words for that one. 

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