Monday, April 22

Lohengrin – Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

After nine years of peace, the enemies from the East are threatening again and King Heinrich (Günther Groissböck) arrives in Brabant to understand why it is in such strife and not providing the necessary support. Telramund (Evgeny Nikitin) accuses Elsa (Tamara Wilson) of the heinous crime of having murdered her brother, Gottfried, heir to the Brabant throne, and has also shunned her betrothal to him in favour of Ortrud (Christine Goerke). Elsa recalls a dream of a knight in shining armour who will come to save her and when the Herald (Brian Mulligan) calls for someone to defend her honour, the mysterious knight (Piotr Beczała) appears on the back of a swan. He pledges his troth to her on condition that she never asks his name or origin to which she agrees, and he duly defeats Telramund in combat to establish the innocence of his bride.

But will Telramund and Ortrud really go that quietly or will they seek vengeance? Will Elsa’s love for her new husband be enough or will she seek to know who he is? And whatever did happen to Gottfried? In this atmospheric production that pits a pagan past against Christian hope, all will eventually be revealed…

Lohengrin was one of the productions in the original Met’s opening season in 1883 and has been a regular staple ever since although its last production was 17 years ago. There is much to like and enjoy about this production but it is apparent that its choice was driven as much by its obvious parallel to unfolding events, with its opening performance marking the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as it does for the Met’s ongoing efforts to support Ukraine and its people.

Wagner’s masterpiece and one of his most accessible works has been adopted historically for darker means but here the emphasis is very much on its personal and psychological questions rather than its nationalistic and militaristic tones: can lovers/partners ever really know each other; and who are we beyond our name?

The themes of good and evil are well explored through the somewhat Star Wars-esque staging with Lighting Designer David Finn and Projection Designer Peter Flaherty drawing our view from the barren underground darkness to glimpse ever skyward towards the light of the moon which marks not only the passage of time but also of an ever-increasing hope. Whilst a little clunky at times, this symbolism is the key to director François Girard’s vision.

Colour plays an important part in both the set and costume design from Tim Yip with the swan-like knight echoed in the virginal innocence of Elsa’s white clothing. In contrast Telramund and Ortrud are darker characters whose added red in clothing and hair dye nods towards the depths from which they have come and will surely return. Heinrich of course is an earthy and wholesome green, very much of the fertile land. The chorus of 130 choristers are naturally broken into three parts with corresponding coloured capes that are flashed to show their allegiance to key characters on stage or as they become converted to the true, just and sacred cause of Lohengrin. With choreography from Serge Bennathan, this is the simplest and yet most effective of devices.

Matching the colour theme with differing tops for the three acts, conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin serves up a musical treat from the ethereal prelude through Wagner’s most demanding yet rewarding choral writing and the orchestra perform with power and control as one spellbinding climax follows another, and at almost five hours in length, that is some achievement. The interplay between orchestra and chorus during Act II was something else to behold.

Wilson’s lyrical Elsa is transformed from her soft vulnerability to a fiery encounter with Ortrud, whilst an almost emotionless Beczala springs to life in the demanding third act where he transforms into the ideal Grail Knight; their tender and loving duet is beautiful.

Groissböck exudes a vibrant authority that is not always matched vocally whilst Mulligan relishes every opportunity which is presented. Evgeny Nikitin’s Telramund is clearly in thrall to Goerke’s Ortrud, but sadly his vocal too often drops and overtaken by the orchestra. Goerke in contrast delivers a strong vocal which is complemented by her credible and believable performance throughout.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 18th March 2023

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★