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Wagner – Lohengrin Recorded at Festspielhouse, Baden-Baden , June 2006

Heinrich der Vogler – Hans-Peter Konig

Lohengrin – Klaus Florian Vogt

Elsa von Brabant – Solveg Kringelborn

Friedrich von Telramund – Tom Fox

Ortrud – Waltraud Meier

Herald – Roman Trekel

Musical Director – Kent Nagano

Stage Director – Nikolaus Lehnoff

TV Director – Thomas Grimm

Stage Designer – Stephen Braunfels

Costume Design – Bettina Walter

Lighting Designer – Duane Schuler

Choreographer – Denni Sayers

Opus Arte - OA 0964 D

3 DVDs – 279 minutes


“Wow!” The key word used for the launch of Microsoft Vista could be applied equally well to this opera production. There are so many superlatives I could throw at it that my mind reels ….. but, I'll start with the visual element. Nikolaus Lehnoff's iconoclastic direction brings the action into modern, and entirely credible surroundings and yet it remains completely true to the romantic legend that is at its heart: White Magic v Black Magic.


His characterisation gives us men who are almost ciphers: King Heinrich a power figure more concerned with expediency than in absolute values, Telramund ambitious and vengeful in equal measure, held in total thrall to his wife's decree, and Lohengrin an embodiment of high minded virtue whose conviction in his own superiority blinds him to any other consideration.


It is the ladies who provide the emotional pivot that drives the plot. Elsa of Brabant as young, insecure and vulnerable as she is virtuous, and Ortrud evil to the core, hell bent on destruction and plotting her strategy with the deliberation of a chess player.


The chorus play an important part, being grouped with geometric precision on Stephen Braunfel's architecturally stepped set, and constantly adding to the dramatic tension. The wide format filming shows it all off to best advantage.


For Act 1 we are in a tribunal or parliament. Elsa stands in isolation, mental as well as physical, as she ignores the charges and describes her dream of the shining knight who is to save her. No swan appears in this production, just a blinding shaft of light from amphitheatre to stage floor through which Lohengrin appears – and throughout he and Elsa are surrounded and set apart by a magical silver light.


At the beginning of Act II the same steps become an no man's land to which Telramund has been exiled. The face to face confrontation between Ortrud and Elsa is a spectacular piece of staging, with Bettina Walter's flamboyant costumes emphasising their antithesis.


The wonderful Act III Prelude leads us into the romantic interlude when Elsa and Lohengrin are alone together for the first time. The set immediately alerts us to the discord that is growing between them.


Lohengrin has been transmuted into a Wagner alter-ego seated at the piano – his art and high ideals outweigh any responsibility or compassion towards his wife. Visually it is most disturbing since in this strange other-worldly place he uses a mirror image piano with deep notes on the right and high notes on the left.


When the moment of crisis comes the curtain backdrop falls away, and the lovers are back on those cold grey steps with the crowd surrounding them in horror.


Musically the production has equal stature. Hans-Peter Konig sound completely at home in King Heinrich's very high bass territory. Tom Fox and Waltraud Meier are perfectly paired as Telramund and Ortrud; he introducing a touch of thuggish arrogance, and she constantly darkening her voice with malice, one senses the snarl that is just concealed.


Solveig Kringelborn sings portrays Elsa with simple beauty, but her voice is often a little edgy indicative of the anxiety of her character. Klaus Florian Vogt is probably the best Lohengrin of around these days. His voice has all the power required combined with great beauty of tone, as much a lyric tenor as an heldentenor. And, they all look as good as they sound.


Kent Nagano's scrupulously prepared conducting is matched by the German Symphony of Orchestra of Berlin, in cracking form.


An absolutely riveting performance, and if that were not enough, there is a good hour long documentary added in.


Serena Fenwick



Photo credit A Kremper