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Richard Wagner: Lohengrin

Elsa von Brabant: Edith Halle
Lohengrin: Johan Botha
Friedrich von Telramund: Falk Struckmann
Ortrud: Petra Lang
Herald: Boaz Daniel; Heinrich I: Kwangchul Youn; Four nobles of Brabant: Haoyin Xue, Ji-Min Park, Kostas Smoriginas, Vuyani Mlinde; Four pages: Anne Osborne, Deborah Peake Jones, Amanda Floyd, Kate McCarney; Gottfried: Ishwar Maharaj.

Conducted by Semyon Bychkov.

Production: Elijah Moshinsky
Design: John Napier

The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London, May 3, 2009.


Our vocal specialist being away covering opera in Frankfurt, it fell to a very imperfect Wagnerite to report on this uncut Lohengrin, a revival 3 decades on of Moshinsky's 1977 production. Through the first Act I felt alienated and out of place, my disbelief epitomised by this representation of the Swan above, in an age when every day slick images on TV compound the absurdities of old style opera production, which the sold out matinée audience at Covent Garden took in its stride.

In the lavish programme book, John Deathridge tells us that it is in Lohengrin where the 'Music of the Future' begins... More useful is Patrick Carnegy's review of the stage history of this always problematic work, which operagoers enjoy not for its intellectual content but its 'pageantry, processions, fights - - the swan-drawn boat'... (William Mann in The Times, 1971). Lohengrin was one of the first operas I saw, very many decades ago, and I miss the plastic swan being trundled across the back of the stage with a massive tenor nimbly jumping out of his chariot; that's how it should be. At Covent Garden we get fobbed off with a trap door entry and no swan at all for9 the return journey.

Acting was minimal and the fights perfunctory. Only the sumptuous music delivered in all its glory by the orchestra and star singers, unnaturally overriding it with ease, drew me in and made the experience plausible in the more varied second Act. With Bychov at the helm and the chorus magnificently sonorous one somehow got into the right mood after the first interval and began to enter this Wagnerian world which still holds sway in international opera houses.

Being a Sunday afternoon, and the season well under way, all the principals were in fine voice and one accepted that acting was no priority in yet another revival of the tired 1977 production. But the whole thing was like a time capsule at variance with the ethos of today.*

Opera Critic assembles ten reviews of this revival and five of Clive Barda's photos. For a Lohengrin of our time, see Musical Pointers' review of Lenhoff's production at Baden-Baden.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* - - John Napier's designs are so redolent of '70s kitsch as to make one reflect more on the nature of opera production at that time rather than engaging with it as a living piece of theatre today - - it looks old-fashioned, and seems caught in a time warp [Musical Criticism]