Wagner: Lohengrin / Nelsons, Vogt, Zeppenfeld, Dasch, Rasilainen, Lang

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WAGNER Lohengrin Andris Nelsons, cond; Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin); Annette Dasch (Elsa); Jukka Rasilainen (Friedrich von Telramund); Petra Lang (Ortrud); Georg Zeppenfeld (Heinrich); Samuel Youn (Herald); Bayreuth Fest O & Ch OPUS ARTE OAA BD7103 D (Blu-ray: 209:00) Live: Bayreuth 8/14/2011

& Interviews with Katharina Wagner, Hans Neuenfels, Klaus Florian Vogt, and Annette Dasch. Animations

I saw this vastly entertaining Lohengrin at Bayrueth in August 2011, six days before it was filmed with the same cast for this Blu-ray release, and can attest that it was as enthusiastically received as it appears to be on its video representation. Yes, a few boos can be heard at the close of each act, but this is easily the most successful Bayreuth production since “the girls” (as Katharina Wagner and Eva Wagner-Pasquier, the composer’s great-granddaughters, are known to the locals) officially took over the festival from the long-lived Wolfgang Wagner.

The director Hans Neuenfels, and those who designed the production, imagine Lohengrin as a kind of bio-psychological scientific experiment and the set evokes a “Skinner Box,” the apparatus used for operant conditioning testing. The good people of Brabant are, indeed, rats with cartoon-like hands, feet, tails, and large mesh heads with glowing rodent eyes. A briskly efficient crew of men in blue hazard suits supervises them periodically. These are, it should be noted, rats with a real sense of style, and the stage picture at the end of act II is stunning. The element of fantasy (and, yes, humor) is entirely in keeping with the conception of Lohengrin as a “fairy tale opera.” It’s magical, but there’s plenty of darkness lurking below the surface as well, as there has always been in fairy tales from the Grimm Brothers to Maurice Sendak.

The scientific issue being considered here centers on Elsa, of course: will she or won’t she? Remarkably, these Bayreuth performances represent the German soprano Annette Dasch’s first go at the role and she gives a richly complex realization. Her opening lines in act II (“Euch Lüften, die mein Klagen”) are anything but chaste, a quasi-erotic reverie that concludes with her kissing a swan with a phallicly elongated neck. On the other hand, Dasch makes it clear early on in the act III bedroom scene that Elsa has something else on her mind other than connubial bliss, that is, her obsession with her new husband’s identity.

As opposed to Dasch, Klaus Florian Vogt is the world’s most sought-after Lohengrin, a veteran of many esteemed productions and two video representations—this one in addition to an estimable Lohengrin directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff and conducted by Kent Nagano—plus an SACD version (with Annette Dasch) on PentaTone. Vogt doesn’t disappoint—his voice is so well suited to the part and his musical instincts so good, how could he?—but his interpretation is by no means fixed. (Says Dasch in her interview feature: “He wasn’t just reeling off his standard Lohengrin!”) Vogt, himself, reports that he learned a lot from the director and feels that the character has been more “humanized,” in this production. But irrespective of a director’s interpretation of the story, the dramatic power of the work rides squarely on the shoulders of the singer in the title role and here Vogt delivers as surely as ever. From his act I entrance right through “In fernem Land,” he holds Elsa, the people of Brabant, and us in his thrall.

As Ortrud, Petra Lang is about as malignantly evil as Wagner’s villains get, sneering, leering, and glaring pretty much every second she’s on camera and offering up some venomous vocalism. Jukka Rasilainen is no weak pawn of his consort—he doesn’t invoke nearly as much pity as some Telramunds, and that’s fine. Georg Zeppenfeld has a strong bass instrument but his relatively slight physical presence matches well Wagner’s implication of a weak and insecure monarch. Samuel Youn, an experienced Wagnerian, makes the Herald into something more than a talking head. His wild hair and air of efficiency suggest a mad scientist, maybe the one in charge of this experiment.

The chorus, as always at Bayreuth, is phenomenal and Andris Nelsons leads with a sure hand (impressing me far more than he did on a Blu-ray release of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 8, reviewed last issue). This is the fourth Blu-ray release from Bayreuth on the Opus Arte label, and these discs, especially when played back in multichannel, get you as close to the reach-out-and-touch-it acoustic experience of the Festspielhaus as any previous recording. At the end of the evening, when the crowd stomps its approval on the old wooden floor of the raked amphitheater, the sense of a large space being acoustically energized is uncanny. The cinematography is superb and the imaginative animations that are projected onstage at various points throughout the opera can be ideally viewed in the Extra section along with interviews of Katharina Wagner (vacuous), Klaus Florian Vogt and Annette Dasch (interesting), and Hans Neuenfels (profound.) And which of Vogt’s three commercial, high-resolution Lohengrins should you get—the Blu-ray led by Nagano, the PentaTone SACD, or this one? Sorry. If you’re a true Wagnerite, you need all three.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: OA 1071D

  • UPC: 809478010715

  • Label: Opus Arte

  • Composer: Richard Wagner

  • Conductor: Andris Nelsons

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Bayreuth Festival Chorus, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra

  • Performer: Annette Dasch, Georg Zeppenfeld, Jukka Rasilainen, Klaus Florian Vogt, Petra Lang, Samuel Youn