The Guardian, 9 December 2012
Martin Kettle
Wagner: Lohengrin, Teatro alla Scala, 7. Dezember 2012
Lohengrin – review
Claus Guth's strikingly staged production is set in an enclosed 19th-century courtyard, and starts as though it might succeed in unlocking Wagner's story. It tells of the mysterious swan-knight who rescues Elsa of Brabant when she is accused of murdering her brother, before abandoning her when she insists on knowing his identity. In Guth's conception, Elsa is always the pivotal character of the opera, a disturbed visionary who clings to memory (her murdered brother is often on stage), music (represented by an onstage piano), and the Earth (embodied by trees, reeds and water). They are her means of protection against the bourgeois political order being imposed by the usurper, Count Telramund, and his wife, Ortrud, who literally wears the trousers in this marriage.

But Guth's conception loses its way as the opera evolves. That's partly owing to the portrayal of Ortrud: Wagner made her an outsider, while Guth makes her an insider, a self-harming maiden in uniform. But the main problem is that Guth cannot explain why Lohengrin behaves as he does. Having arrived as a figment of Elsa's delirium – she almost literally gives birth to him – his rejection of Elsa is made to seem callously meaningless. It's a very fascinating try, but in the end Guth's ideas run out of steam.

Given Elsa is central to this staging, it was bad luck that flu removed both the much-anticipated Anja Harteros and her replacement, Ann Petersen from proceedings. Bayreuth's current Elsa, Annette Dasch, coped heroically with a production that she had joined with less than 24 hours notice, though her soprano lacked the body and projection that the Scala's big stage demands. In the title role, Jonas Kaufmann was in a class of his own, totally involved and giving a masterclass of daringly varied, sometimes mannered, vocal technique. Evelyn Herlitzius was tireless but not a classic Ortrud, Tómas Tómasson a very credible Telramund, and René Pape a luxury, though he occasionally strained as King Heinrich. Barenboim's grip on the score was not always consistent, especially towards the end of the second act. But when it was good, it was very good indeed, and the La Scala Orchestra and Chorus played and sang fabulously well for him.

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