viernes, 15 de noviembre de 2019

Video review: Lohengrin, staged by Wolfgang Wagner, from the Prague Opera.

In 1967, Wolfgang Wagner became the sole manager and artistic director of the Bayreuth Festival after the death of his brother Wieland. This brought uncertainty about the future of the festival, since Wolfgang's productions were not as revolutionary as his famous brother Wieland. His productions had mixed reviews, being ,applauded by the most conservative critic and branded as boring by the most progressive, lacking that point which made Wieland's ones such provocative, deep and fascinating at the same time. That year, the festival was opened with a new production of Lohengrin.

Fifty years later, the Prague Opera commissioned Wolfgang's daughter, Katharina Wagner, a new production of this opera, but the stage couldn't fit to this idea, so she decided to re-create this old staging.

                                                   The original 1967 Bayreuth production

Wolfgang Wagner's stagings were more classical than Wieland's, less delving and less provocating. In the first years, his productions mixed the minimalist New Bayreuth style with realism, naturalism, tending more to just perform Wagner than to re-interpret him. In this production, there is still a lot of this elements, but we could notice signs of an evolution into a complete realism, which will define Wolfgang's productions at Bayreuth during the next decades, reaching its peak in his completely well-known traditional production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the 1981 (filmed in 1984) Festival.

A child of its time, the gestures and scenical movements are reduced, giving a static sensation for a modern spectator. Some new dramaturgy is introduced, like the reaction to Elsa towards Gottfried. Ortrud's profile is very well recreated in the second act, for example in the glance she gives to the audience when Elsa embraces her. The costumes are luxurious and simple at the same time, close to a medieval style but with reduced ornament, in red and grey-like green for the men and blue for the women, excepting Ortrud. Elsa wears a white gown to represent her naivety, as well as Lohengrin dresses in white and light blue.

In the first act, the curtain reveals a morning scene in cerulean blue in the middle, and at his sides there are two walls decorated with leaves, in a pre-rafaelite style. The former classical disc-shaped stage platform was transformed in an octagonal one, with different octagone levels, decorated with floral motifs. The chorus is placed in circle, surrounding the main characters, like in a greek tragedy. Lohengrin's arrival is announced by the swan projected in the sky, whose aura takes the form of a big gothic rosette light. The characters sing in the central octogone and the chorus in the upper one, in order to focus the attention in Elsa's, Telramund's and Lohengrin's feelings. The second act is a big wall with a romanic altarpiece structure. The red light illuminates the villain's duo, with Telramund moving in anger and despair, quite irrationally while Ortrud sits quietly in a corner, with a white illumination which focuses in her all the scheme, which will define the plot. Elsa appears at the bottom as an etheral apparition and when she descends the lights turn clearer step by step, to counteract Telramund's anger. The second scene is a beautiful slow procession of the chorus, and at the end the comitive goes more and more in front to the audience after the dramatic glance between Elsa and Ortrud. In the third act, there is a domed arch (based, according Frederic Spotts, on the West porch of the Pisa cathedral) in the middle of the scene. Inside it, there is a bench where the couple sing their duet. At the Finale, the swan re-appears and when Lohengrin brings Gottfried it dissappears to become a great bunch of beam lights. Elsa rejects her brother to try to reach her husband but when he is not more visible she collapses and the curtain falls.

In this link we can find a long 7-hour video including two complete performances with different casts of this production, in June 2018. They are filmed from one general angle which doesn't vary, so sometimes it could be a bit hard to watch.

Constantin Trinks is the conductor of the performances, with an agile, dramatic performance. The strings are superb so that the begining of the prelude is a magic, beautiful moment. On the other hand, the brass sections sound very metallic and not completely refined, and as a result the tutti orchestral sounds quite rough. The chorus sings well, specially the females.

In the first cast, Stefan Vinke sings the title role. His Lohengrin is very heroical, with great renditions in his arrival or the duet in third act, resulting in a solemn, elegiac interpretation of the hero. Dana Burešová is a nice, lyric Elsa, with a good voice but sometimes a bit troubled in high notes in the third act. Olafur Sigurdarson is a light Telramund, just correct but with an interesting acting. Jiří Sulženko and Jiří Brückler are correct in their respective roles of King Heinrich and the Herald. The big surprise of the cast is Eliška Weissová as Ortrud, with a beautiful voice and amazing high notes. Her nice middle register, sung dramatically sometimes reminds the legendary Waltraud Meier. A great performer to follow.

The second cast is better than the first one. Charles Kim is a lyric, beautifully sung Lohengrin, In the famous In Fernem Land he starts singing in an outstanding piano singing, giving it a heavenly aura, rendering an unforgettable performance. Edith Haller is a nice, delightful Elsa, with a dramatic soprano voice, better projected than Buresová. Magnificent pianos in her replica to Lohengrin's prohibition to ask about his origins. The veteran and international singer Eva Urbanová is Ortrud. The voice has lost its prime, with screamed high notes and slightly strident sounds in the middle. However, her passionate acting and accomplished sense of the scene get the show off the ground, making the curse and her final scene some of the best moments of the night. Martin Bartá is a darker Telramund than Sigurdarson, but a bit less expressive. Peter Mikulas has a nice bass voice for King Heinrich and Vladimír Chmelo has a big, dark baritone voice for the Herald: both singers give interesting renditions of their roles.

    Katharina Wagner and the production team receiving the applause at the end of the performance. 

Wolfgang Wagner's productions, as we can see in the videos of his Bayreuth productions, had a nice classical beauty and naturalism, invitating the audience to relax and just to enjoy the performance. In this Prague revival, a new generation has the opportuinity to see a piece of operatic history: a souvenir from the golden era of Bayreuth Festival, which changed the see we see opera nowadays.

My reviews are not professional and express only my opinions. As a non English native speaker I apologise for any mistake.
Most of the photographs are from the internet and belong to its authors. My use of them is only cultural. If someone is uncomfortable with their use, just notify it to me.

Any reproduction of my text requires my permission.

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