Financial Times, June 5, 2010
By Andrew Clark
Wagner: Lohengrin
Wagner’s “romantic opera” is back in play. Next weekend Andris Nelsons conducts a concert performance in Birmingham, and next month Bayreuth stages a new production.

The “live” experience will have to be exceptionally good to rival this DVD of the 2009 Munich production. It is outstanding on several fronts, not least Kaufmann’s swan knight and Harteros’s Elsa. Kaufmann really is the Lohengrin of one’s dreams – melting of timbre, masculine in appearance, immaculate in his projection of text. But what impresses most is his lyrical radiance, whether singing heroically or with Lied-like finesse (as in “Mein lieber Schwan”).

Harteros brings vocal intensity and smouldering beauty to a part that is too often portrayed as a wilting pushover. The supporting cast may be not be quite on the same level, and Kent Nagano’s conducting is superficial, but the chorus is superbly drilled and Richard Jones’s staging, designed by Ultz, provides a fascinating modern take on one of the trickiest Wagner operas.

Brabant (Bavaria?) is a right-wing post-war society hungry for a new Führer – an Orwellian world where the Herald’s pronouncements are broadcast on a flickering screen that all must watch. Lohengrin, an anti-hero in tracksuit trousers and T-shirt, helps Elsa, in pigtail and dungarees, to build her domestic utopia – pine bungalow with double-bed and baby’s cradle – but her bourgeois dream falters on unrealistic expectations. Unable to fulfil the role of perfect husband, Lohengrin torches the house – the implication being that people who promise miracles and demand unquestioning fidelity can be as destructive as national saviours.

You don’t have to agree with Jones’s thesis to admire his stagecraft and enjoy his acid wit. Even though he fails to find a convincing metaphor for the swan, he makes us examine a familiar tale with fresh eyes. Lohengrin has been waiting for a strong modern interpretation on DVD, and this is it.

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