Notes and Editorial Reviews
Peter Schneider, cond; Paul Frey (
); Cheryl Studer (
); Ekkehard Wlaschiha (
); Gabriele Schnaut (
); Manfred Schenk (
); Eike Wilm Schulte (
); Bayreuth Festival O & Ch
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 001085709 (2 DVDs: 214:07) Live: Bayreuth 6/24—7/1/1990
A blurb on the box of this
staged by film director Werner Herzog (
), describes it as “Edgar Allan Poe meets the Brothers Grimm.” After a couple of duels with squiggly swords and some pretty-cool-in-1990-but-kind-of-hokey-now laser effects to accompany the title character’s arrival and departure, one might reasonably add Flash Gordon to the mix. The point is that Herzog finds a mythic core to
that connects more to the ethos of the Nibelung dramas than to the other two “Romantic” Wagner operas it’s traditionally grouped with,
Most of this
transpires at night and the weather’s been lousy. All of it is set out of doors, including the beginning of act III, where Elsa and Lohengrin’s nuptial bed sits in the middle of a rock-strewn field. There’s a decidedly cinematic quality to the look of this production, especially act II’s opening scene, a ruined Romanesque structure on the shore of a lake with real water and wavelets. (Ortrud goes splashing around at one point.) The sets, costumes, lighting, and special effects are extravagant but are also entirely in line with Herzog’s intensely dramatic view of the story. The staging never calls attention to itself, as it did in Peter Konwitschny’s
see review in
31:2—which imagined the principals as middle-schoolers. The only bizarre revisionist touch comes in the opera’s closing seconds. Herzog leads us to believe that Elsa and Ortrud are somehow reconciled: they are reaching out to clasp hands as the stage goes dark.
The strongest performances are those of Cheryl Studer and Ekkehard Wlaschiha. Studer’s soprano is expansive, yet focused and pure, with pleasing texture down low and warmth higher up. Her singing is radiant and assured, and she manifests well the inner strength of her character when she faces down Ortrud in the second act—it’s apparent that Elsa can only be brought down by her own fatal flaw. Wlashchiha, who has portrayed a terrific Alberich, makes Telramund a more interesting personage than he often is. He’s genuinely evil here and not just his wife’s weak stooge in her scheme to gain power. Like Klingsor and, indeed, Alberich, he wasn’t born that way: there were clearly transforming experiences in his earlier life that made him the desperate man we know.
Gabriele Schnaut’s Ortrud exudes a malevolent and very sexual power—this is clearly a blood relative of Kundry. The first scene of act II between Schnaut and Wlaschiha manifests the same smoldering hatred we witness in Alberich and Hagan’s meeting at the start of
’s second act. As King Henry, Manfred Schenk is decent and solid; Eike Wilm Schulte is a robustly stentorian Herald.
Which leaves Lohengrin. Paul Frey definitely
the part—he’s got a cleft chin in a class with those of Cary Grant, George Clooney, and Dudley Dooright—but the voice is Heldentenor-lite, appropriate for Erik or David, not the relaxed, lyrical, glowing tenor one relishes for this role. The success of act III depends heavily on the Lohengrin, and it’s a tribute to the compelling and insightful conducting of Peter Schneider that things stay on track to the very end. Orchestral details illuminate the action on stage as evidently as they do in the
The Procession to the Cathedral, with the superb choral work we expect at Bayreuth, and the extended passage leading up to act III’s last scene are highlights well worth revisiting.
Subtitles are offered in German, English, French, Spanish, and Chinese. PCM Stereo is, of course, the higher resolution audio format but, as with other recordings originating from the Festspielhaus, the approximation of that extraordinary acoustic hinted at in the DTS surround version makes the lower “bit density” well worth it. This DG release is an enjoyable production to add to a Wagner video collection.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese. Read less
Works on This Recording
Lohengrin by Richard Wagner
Ekkehard Wlaschiha (Baritone),
Manfred Schenck (Bass),
Gabriele Schnaut (Soprano),
Paul Frey (Tenor),
Cheryl Studer (Soprano)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,
Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Written: 1846-1847; Germany
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