Friday 18 May 2007

Konwitschny Lohengrin: Battle in the classroom

Lohengrin. Royal Danish Opera, January 2007. Production: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Stig Fogh Andersen (Lohengrin), Ann Petersen (Elsa), Susanne Resmark (Ortrud), Kjeld Christoffersen (Telramund). Conductor: Friedemann Layer.

Peter Konwitschny represents a lot of the things I appreciate in opera directors, most importantly the courage and insight to re-interpret standard repertoire with no regards to conventional concepts of opera staging. His productions of Tristan and Isolde,The Flying Dutchman and Elektra range among my top operatic experiences. On the other hand I don´t understand his Parsifal. This is not the problem with his Lohengrin: I understand it just fine, I just don´t like it, for the reasons outlined below.

This production originated in Hamburg approximately 10 years ago with Inga Nielsen as the original Elsa and has also travelled to Barcelona, where it is released on DVD from Barcelona Liceu. In Copenhagen performances took place in the new waterfront Copenhagen Opera House.

Peter Konwitschny´s Lohengrin takes place in a class-room: Elsa is the Miss-Perfect-slightly-irritating-girl, King Heinrich is the teacher, Telramund and Ortrud are naugthy pupils. Everyone throws chalk and sponges around the class-room and play with tree swords. Elsa hides in the closet because Ortrud teases her. Lohengrin appears through the floor as the only adult and when he eventually kills Telramund with a real sword, everything falls apart and the kids suddenly have to grow up. Peter Konwitschny has explained that he, based on Wagner´s text, finds the characters (inter)act in childish ways, thus this classroom setting.

And why it doesn´t work, in my opinion? I am no fan of traditional performances and have no desire for knights, swords and a swan in Lohengrin. But all this frenous stage activity simply moves the focus away from the music. This is Wagner for people who do not like Wagner. Furthermore, I miss the interpersonal drama in this institutional set-up.

Musically, it was a huge success for all involved.

Stig Andersen is a fine Lohengrin. Fine acting, emotionally believable, though he has to struggle for the top notes. Matched by Ann Petersen´s touching Elsa, changing from schoolgirl to adult.
Susanne Resmark was voted best opera performer of the season for this Ortrud. She has the ability to project her voice into the auditorium, but I don´t find her voice particularly beautiful and being quite a large woman severely limits her possibilities of creating attractive female roles on stage. Though she makes up for much being a superb actress, as her DVD-Erda clearly demonstrates, making the maximum identification with her parts.

Friedemann Layer had great success with the orchestra, creating a beautifully transparent sound.

In summary: If you don´t like Wagner, this is a good place to start...

Photograph from Kgl Teater

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