24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Just as I am ready to dismiss and turn off this Lohengrin, I find something to like in it, so I keep watching (and hearing) and remain attentive to the performance. So, I guess at some level, it is effective.
I like the sets, massive but simple(Act II is quite striking). Costumes are dreadful (Lohengrin's are particularly ghastly, and the silver paint evidently rubs off, as one can see on DVD; Ortrud's however are glorious in a kitschy witch-madam sort of way, reminiscent of the Powell-Pressburger Tales of Hoffman). Texts for the many choruses do not lend themselves to the rather pedestrian contemporary clothes the poor choristers are called upon to wear; they look straight out of a Sear's catalogue. If not "period" or "timeless", a less literal "contemporary" look would have seemed preferable. The production's conceit centering the opera in Elsa's mind is no more than that, and is neither original nor offensive.
But ultimately, the important stuff is the musical realization of Lohengrin, arguably Wagner's most melodious score and, direct descendant of Weber's Freischutz, the zenith of German romantic opera. Here is where this performance really wants but, again, does not offend. I've never found Nagano an eloquent conductor (he has other virtues), and, with Wagner, he does not use the story-telling, dramatic devices built into the orchestral score. The great Wagner conductors I can immediately think of, say Furtwangler, Knappertsbusch, Karajan, Kempe, currently Levine, all realize and convey drama in and from the pit. Lohengrin lacks the contrapuntal glories of Meistersinger, the chromaticism of Tristan, the leit-motifs and rhythmic variety of the Ring, the unique musical language and sound-world of Parsifal. But in Lohengrin musical phrases from the pit not only support but comment and at times carry the action, and indeed reach apex of rare melodic beauty, e.g., the violins, supported by arching phrases in the cellos, repeating Elsa's reconciliation music at the end of her great scene with Ortrud in Act II . Nagano goes nowhere in this scene (I don't think the word "rubato" exists in his vocabulary), and as elsewhere, sounds as if his job were to keep things tidy and mark time.
I like lyrical voices in Lohengrin. Sandor Konya defined the role for me and so far remains unmatched, but I also saw good performances from Siegfried Jerusalem and (early)Rene Kollo (Domingo, to my taste, sounds too bright and Latin for this music, fine artist though he is). All of these tenors were lyrics (though both Jerusalem and Kollo went on to sing heavier parts) and approached Lohengrin lyrically, that is, with the line and phrasing they would have given, say, Nemorino's music. Though lyrics, they had vocal heft, restrained but selectively projected in Lohengrin, and which also enabled all of them to sing Walther von Stolzing as well as Parsifal (I also heard Konya once sing a beautiful Edgardo in Lucia, as well as much Verdi and Puccini). The problem with Mr. Vogt is that there is minuscule body to his sound, notwithstanding his fine musicianship and tasteful portrayal. The same has to be said of Miss Kringelborn, though she is not as interesting a singer. It's not that the voice is lyric (I always found Birgit Nilsson's Elsa an aberration) but that it is light. The greatest Elsa I ever saw was Elizabeth Grummer, also a great Eva and a Donna Anna (alas, I never saw Gundula Janowitz in the part though she's fabulous in the otherwise mixed-bag Kubelik recording, and the great Maria Muller was much before my time, though I've heard her complete Elsa as well as various excerpts). All of these ladies were lyrics but could project and muster heft. In short, what we have in this performance are a Don Ottavio and Zerlina who somehow walked into the wrong opera. Nagano allows them to be heard, but this may contribute to the overall paleness of his performance. Everybody else is probably as good as it gets today. It is always a pleasure to watch Waltraud Meier though the voice does not seem as rich here as I've heard it in the past. Who are the great Ortruds in my book? First and foremost Margarete Klose in that embarrassingly magnificent (given provenance)live performance from Berlin, 1942 (available on Preiser Records); it's a lesson in projecting text and drama by one of the great contralto instruments of the 20th century through voice color and musicianship. The voice leaps at you and you see the face. Not that far behind are Kirsten Thorborg and, closer to us, Christa Ludwig. Meier is a most effective singer, arguably the best today in this repertoire, if not in the same vocal league as the aforementioned ladies.
So, where do I come out? There's no violence done to Lohengrin here, but by no stretch of the imagination is this performance a must, unless you really like Lohengrin (like I do) and find something to like in nearly any performance of it. By the way, the chorus is great.
A technical observation: I find that the dts sound is not well mixed, with the voices fading in and out a bit depending where they stand on stage; the orchestra prevails always. I recommend using the stereo option.