Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wagner – Lohengrin, Metropolitan Opera, 1986 (Safe Viewing for Regie-phobes)

To make up for subjecting my TV-viewing companion (TV-VC) to the Bayreuth “rat” Lohengrin (reaction: beautiful music; too bad about all those rats), I dug up this 1980s version from the Met. It got really mixed reviews at amazon.com, and now I know why. James Levine and the Met chorus and orchestra do not disappoint, but the rest of the production is uneven.

Peter Hofmann was the Wagner tenor for a few months back in the 80’s. He’s handsome and he sings fairly well, but I think I have a broom that could act better. In comparison, Eva Marton comes across as a very dramatic actress. She’s more mature and less vulnerable than other Elsas, (“more substantial” than Annette Dasch, was TV-VC’s feedback) which lends a different poignancy to the role. I cried with her at the end of the last act. Lief Roar as Telramund got good reviews, but I heard more barking than roaring.

Leonie Rysaneck as Ortrud (a formidable Elsa herself) could do no wrong for this audience. Considering she was in her 60s she was impressive, especially from an acting standpoint. She nearly overshadowed the rest of the cast, and her big scene with Elsa made an impact. Vocally, however, I hear Rysaneck as another shrieking Ortrud. It has got to be a killer role to cast: too high for mezzos, too low for sopranos. (Although, there are a few mezzos and dramatic sopranos who’ve made it work. I think Röschmann could be a lyrical and insane Ortrud, but I’d hate for her to blow her voice out on it.)

Ortrud tricks Elsa into taking her in.

As settings go, I guess you would call the direction by August Everding traditional and/or literal. It’s attractive and not too challenging. Lohengrin is a crazy magical tale to begin with, so a truly literal production usually will leave a lot unexplained. (TV-VC gave a bit of an eye roll as the final curtain fell.) At the same time, Neuenfels’ version possibly gives us too much to think about with rats, humans, half-rats, pink mice, and a psychotic king (all well-sung); Jones’ is just distracting with all that house construction going on (also all well-sung); and Konwitchny’s school children offer an interesting viewpoint, but it just gets creepy when we get to the wedding night bit (half well-sung).

The Wedding Scene

I understand Hofmann’s earlier video from Bayreuth is a better performance. I have become a big fan of Lohengrin, so I have to confess I will probably go back again to each version I've seen already (including the new Guth version at LaScala). There are also several audio recordings that are recommendable. But even without seeing  the two Bayreuth videos yet, I think I’d recommend one of them over this one, especially for someone who is looking for a more “traditional” or at least less weird, but well-sung performance.  Of course, as soon as the new La Scala  is released on DVD, that will be my number one choice!


  1. Did you notice the seriously weird video direction in the first encounter between Ortrud and Elsa? It's as if Large said "OMG another dark scene with people standing still doing nothing" and hit the button for the video director's book of magic tricks.

    1. It didn't bother me, or even draw my attention at the time, but in retrospect it was a very video-y vs. stagey thing to do. In a way, I liked the dual closeups, but it was clearly different from what Everding had in mind (if anything).


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