Bayreuth Festival @ the Liceu: Lohengrin

SpainSpain R. Wagner, Lohengrin: Soloists, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus, Sebastian Weigle (conductor), Liceu, Barcelona, 5.9.2012 (JMI)

Concert Version


Lohengrin: Klaus Florian Vogt
Elsa: Annette Dasch
Ortrud: Susan Maclean
Telramund: Thomas J. Mayer
King Henry: Wilhelm Schwinghammer
Herald: Ralf Lukas

Lohengrin Barcelona Picture © A.Bofill

This was the second concert of the Bayreuth Festival’s visit to Barcelona and the outcome was almost a copy of the previous day: a popular success thanks to the magnificent musical forces from the Bayreuth Festival, a remarkable musical direction, and a vocal cast – with some exceptions – unworthy of a festival with such an impressive history behind it.

This was not Sebastian Weigle’s first Lohengrin at the Liceu. He was in the pit for the last performances of this opera about 6 years ago. Then he offered one his best performances through his 4 year term at the Liceu, much better in my opinion than those he produced a couple of years later in The Dutchman. He was also better in this concert than he was on the previous day and I had no objection at all to his reading in Acts I and III, where he showed himself to be a remarkable conductor in full maturity. In the second act though, things were quite not so good, with more variability, but even so always at a decent level. Generally, I thought he offered rather slow version of the opera but despite this, the extraordinary Bayreuth Festival Orchestra as truly outstanding from beginning to end. The same applies to the Bayreuth Chorus, the other impressive pillar of the concert.

The vocal cast, with the exception of the holder of the opera’s title role, left much to be desired. It was not what a prestigious and unique festival is supposed to offer and I was left wondering how some singers came to be in the cast. As appears to be the case in many other opera houses today, it seems that the Wagner family has become more interested in the theatrical aspects of performances than in the vocal elements. I do not know what Richard Wagner would have thought of this, but I do find it hard to believe that not only he but also his children and grandchildren, would be able to show very much pride in some of the singers present yesterday at the Liceu – and before that in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus.

The big success in the cast was Klaus Florian Vogt as Lohengrin. This excellent tenor’s voice is the subject of much discussion among opera lovers and there are very good reasons for these debates. This is a very white voice, not the usual kind that one identifies with Wagner heroes, although Lohengrin of course does not require a true heldentenor. My personal position is to be without any doubt among the supporters of this great singer, who as Lohengrin, Parsifal or Walther offers magnificent performances. This Lohengrin was outstanding from start to finish, a great Lohengrin in fact and bordering on perfection to my mind. His final narration, “In fernem Land” was both moving and exciting. No, it was simply magnificent.

German soprano Annette Dasch was the Elsa in the last production at Bayreuth. She perfectly meets the current demands of artistic directors in many theaters nowadays: she has a spectacular figure worthy of a Hollywood star, a generally appealing voice and a she is a very good actress on stage. Her voice does not have the volume required for most Wagner heroines – although Elsa is not a character that requires a huge voice – but a more important middle range is definitelly needed. Her main problem though is that her top notes can be problematic and here they were off pitch more than once.

In the first two years of this Lohengrin at Bayreuth Ortrud was played by Petra Lang. I have seen her several times in the role and she is undoubtedly one of its best interpreters. Susan Maclean cannot be compared to her, unfortunately; she does not have the means to cope with Ortrud’s music, which needs not just a normal mezzo soprano voice, but what is known as a Falcon. Ms MacLean’s voice is not particularly important, but she does know to handle it. Even so, sadly some of the top notes were colorless, tight, and even shouted.

Thomas J. Mayer was a good Telramund, much more comfortable in the upper tessitura than in the low notes. For my taste however, his voice lacks the darkness so necessary to this evil character. It is difficult to understand – and more difficult to accept – that Bayeuth has cast a singer like Wilhelm Schwinghammer as König Heinrich / Henry the Fowler. This young singer is a member of the Hamburg Opera and as of yet unknown in the main opera houses of the world. He didn’t seem to be in top condition and, perhaps as a consequence of that, his voice lacked volume and distinction and had a whitish and tight upper range.

As the King’s Herald we had Ralf Lukas, while in Bayreuth it was Samuel Youn – the Dutchman from the previous day at the Liceu. Mr Lukas is an experienced singer, whose voice is now showing clear traces of the passage of time, with a marked vibrato which is hardly acceptable.

Orchestra and artists were a triumphant success with the audience. For myself though, perhaps the best aspect of the concert was not having to see the stage production by Hans Neuenfels. A review of the performance from Bayreuth this year, by my colleague Jens Laurson (who liked the rats) can be read here.

José Mª Irurzun