Monday, 11 February 2013

La Scala Lohengrin 2012 season opening

Lohengrin. Teatro alla Scala, December 2012 opening night, streamed. Production: Claus Guth. Conductor: Daniel Barenboim. Cast: Jonas Kaufmann (Lohengrin), Annette Dasch (Elsa), René Pape (Heinrich), Evelyn Herlitzius (Ortrud), Tomas Tomasson (Telramund), Zeljko Lucic (Heerrufer).

At 7 pm, German soprano Annette Dasch received a phone call in her Berlin home. If she could possibly come to Milano and sing Elsa in the new Claus Guth production of Lohengrin the next evening for the season opening of La Scala in Milano, as Anja Harteros was ill? To be televised directly, obviously. 3 hours later she was on the plane. The next day, she had a 2 hour session with Claus Guth and 10 minutes with Daniel Barenboim. She had worked with Barenboim before, but not in Wagner operas, as well as with Claus Guth. And she had sung Elsa to Jonas Kaufmann´s Lohengrin in 2009 in Bayreuth, in a production where Elsa is a disturbed character, not entirely unlike her characterization in this production.

Claus Guth is particularly known for emphasising the darker sides of standard repertoire work - just take a look at his Nozze di Figaro or Cosí fan tutte, both available on DVD. His favourite century is the 19th century (source: himself) and setting his Lohengrin in a repressive Biedermeier society seems just like the thing he would do. We are in an open space surrounded by balconies and doors. A piano and some stretches of grass represent the past with frequent flashbacks of Elsa playing the piano under Ortrud´s rough guidance. Elsa and her brother were  repressed (if not physically abused) as children. It is this repressive society that Elsa longs to leave, and thus she conjures up Lohengrin, a sickly, neurotic wretch whom she clearly does not love and finally rejects. Also frequently seen on stage: A child with swan feathers and Lohengrin more often than not curled up in a fetal position. According to an interview Claus Guth´s agenda evolved around how people arrived at their own happiness after a deprived childhood. He raises plenty of questions, however. Such as why Lohengrin has to be so sickly? While it is excellent with a staging raising plenty of questions I ultimately felt that the lack of consistency and interpersonal relations (especially between Elsa and this sickly Lohengrin) were the weakness of this staging. 

For Jonas Kaufmann, the ultimate romantic hero, one could wish for him to appear in a slightly more traditional production or at least one where he is allowed to show the romantic/as written in the score sides of Lohengrin:  In 2009 in Bayreuth he was in the middle of a rat experiment, later that year in Munich he was a carpenter, and here in Milano he is a neurotic fragment of Elsa´s fantasy, stripped of all pretenses, rolling on the floor curved in fetal position.
His singing, however, is formidable and he just seems to get better and better. A couple of years ago one would often hear that he could not go on singing like that, with his shaded tenor pushing for the high notes. That criticism is nowadays seldom heard. Anyway, I for one, have always thought that, unlike Villazon, his singing seems rock solid. Really he is virtually beyond competition as Lohengrin today.

Annette Dasch is a formidable actress, and creates an intensely moving portrayal of Elsa, quite better than her performance at Bayreuth. However, legato lines and blooming topnotes still are not her specialty and Anja Harteros remains the better singer of the two while Annette Dasch clearly is the superior actress.

René Pape was superb in what is a medium-opportunity role for him and Zeljko Lucic was luxury casting as Heerrufer.

As for the socalled villains, they were unfortunately disappointing. Tomas Tomasson was heavily overmatched and Evelyn Herlitzius, though a fine actress, was wobbly and frankly unpleasant to listen to. Could Barenboim not have called Waltraud Meier for this, really?

The Scala orchestra plays formidable for Barenboim. As I noticed some years ago when he conducted Tristan and Isolde here, there is a particular expansive sound to the orchestra, not heard when he conducts his Berlin hometown orchestra.

Official production trailer:

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Jonas Kaufmann: 5
Annette Dasch: 4
René Pape: 5
Tomas Tomasson: 3
Evelyn Herlitzius: 3

Claus Guth: 4
Daniel Barenboim: 5

Overall impression: 4

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