Strong singing in a new Lohengrin at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich

GermanyGermany Wagner, Lohengrin: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Bayerische Staatsoper / François-Xavier Roth (conductor). Nationaltheater, Munich, 3.12.2022. (ALL)

Bayerische Staatsoper’s Lohengrin © Wilfried Hösl

Director – Kornél Mundruczó
Production assistant – Marcos Darbyshire
Set design – Monika Pormale
Costumes – Anna Axer Fijalkowska
Lighting – Felice Ross
Dramaturgy – Kata Wéber, Malte Krasting
Chorus master – Tilman Michael

Heinrich der Vogler – Mika Kares
Lohengrin – Klaus-Florian Vogt
Elsa von Brabant – Johanni van Oostrum
Friedrich von Telramund – Johann Reuter
Ortrud – Anja Kampe
The King’s Herald – Andrè Schuen
Four Brabantine Elders – Liam Bonthrone, Granit Musliu, Gabriel Rollinson, Roman Chabaranok

This is the second time after Così fan tutte that the Bayerische Staatsoper has asked a celebrated movie director for a new production. Kornél Mundruczó, celebrated at the Cannes Film Festival and on Netflix, had already given us an intense Makropoulos Case in Geneva (review here). Expectations were high, but Wagner’s operas are works of a very different nature than Janáček’s. While they last several hours, the action is concentrated in a few minutes. The art of the director consists in illustrating all those moments when time stops.

In a co-production with Shanghai Grand Theatre, Mundruczó’s basic Konzept was not without interest. Lohengrin is not a saviour fallen from the sky, but a ‘normal’ man from the crowd. But is there anything else to report? This is a production which is somewhat shallow. Who are these masses in tracksuits…? What is the hidden meaning of the stones and the references to nature…? All this is not very clear, not very interesting, a little disappointing and perhaps not all that important, either.

But we are in Munich and the musical quality is of the highest order. François-Xavier Roth was making his debut here in this pit and, I believe, his debut with an opera by Wagner. Under his baton, the orchestra displayed somewhat lighter textures in the Prelude to the first act with minimal vibrato strings. Overall, however, the ensemble was theatrical in the best sense of the word. The singers were supported with great care. The third act had a truly irrestible momentum.

The chorus was magnificent. The staging itself seemed to have little use for them, and yet they were carefully distributed on stage so that the sound came through with colour and power. The entire cast was very high class. Andrè Schuen is a Herald of great authority, who will certainly be heard again in many Wagnerian roles. Johann Reuter’s voice makes for a darkly coloured Telramund. Anja Kampe made her debut here as Ortrud. She is perhaps the Brünnhilde of our generation, but her intelligence with the text and the power of the voice more than compensated for the fact that she does not have the colours of a mezzo. The South African Johanni van Oostrum made her debut as Elsa. Her German diction was not as clear as her colleagues and she was more at ease with the lyrical than with the dramatic part of her role, but van Oostrum increasingly gained confidence over the course of the evening. The role of Lohengrin is probably ideal for Klaus-Florian Vogt, who displayed incredible vocal technique with what must be the ideal head voice it requires, while at the same time, owning the text with genuine tenorial colours. Finally, Mika Kares gave a rather extraordinary reading of King Henry. We know the power of his singing, but his performance, especially in the first act, had an authority that recalled the work of the great Kurt Moll in this part.

The audience hailed the musicians triumphantly at this premiere in a packed house. This Lohengrin will be repeated several times in December before being revived for the festival in July. Here is another reminder that it is no longer necessary to go to Bayreuth to experience Wagner at such a high level.

Antoine Lévy-Leboyer

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