, Berlin State Opera, April 12th
2009. Production: Stefan Herheim
. Cast: Klaus Florian Vogt
(Lohengrin), Dorothea Röschmann
(Elsa), Michaela Schuster
), Gerd Grochowski
), Markus Brück
(Herald), Kwangchul Youn
(Heinrich). Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
. Further information here
Norwegian director Stefan Herheim
has become one of the most sought-after directors after his staging of Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival
last year. Some thought Herheim created a masterpiece
. Others, me among them
, did not. Though I have greatly admired Stefan Herheim
´s stagings of the past, such as the brilliant deconstruction of Entführung in Salzburg 2003
, the Parsifal was quite simply to overly-intellectual and disorganized as I saw it.
Which also applies to this new Lohengrin
production, though this time to a degree that I actually find Stefan Herheim
more or less has ruined the piece.
The short version
of this review is that I do not recall any new staging of any Wagnerian opera, which appealed so little to me than this Lohengrin. Daniel Barenboim
, on the other hand, was sensational.
In fact I have pondered for two days on how to put this on paper in a both civilized and fair manner. And to start with the fairness, I may add that though the general opinions in the German press on Herheim´s staging were only luke-warm
, this review is firmly rooted in the very negative end of the specter. Not to forget, that others found this staging to be a masterpiece
To the point: I simply didn
´t understand the concept. It was a confusing, un
-dramatic as well as highly intellectual mish
-mash which brought me nothing. And worst of all: It took all the attention away from the music.
It started well: A Richard Wagner
puppet dances on a tree-trunk during the prelude. A feather drops down and he apparently starts to compose. We then move on to Act 1, opening in present time with groups of people waving banners displaying the three opera houses in Berlin, apparently an allegory of Brabant
with The Herald starting out as the Berlin bear:
All main characters, Ortrud (and possibly Lohengrin) excepted, are puppeteers with a medieval puppet version of their character, which they control. Around the time the horn and helmet clad Lohengrin arrives, the action moves into the medieval times. Still with puppets.
And with the additional twist of all characters wearing naked-body suits with strategically placed figleaves, which they change into at various points, running around the stage.
The explanation? According to the programme booklet, Stefan Herheim
explains that the sin of Eve (eating the forbidden apple thus rebelling against God) in Eden is central to the drama of Lohengrin
. Who am I to say he is not right? However, as engaging theater, in my opinion it fails completely. And has very little connection to the music
Though the puppet-puppeteer concept does seem rather appropriate for a static piece like Lohengrin, Stefan Herheim, as I see it,
fails to ask (or answer) the central questions of Lohengrin, such as: Where does this man come from? Why must we not know his name etc.? Questions Peter Konwitschny actually does both ask and answer in his famous Hamburg production
, a major inspirational source for Stefan Herheim
Readers who admire Konwitschny´s Lohengrin, certainly stand a rather good chance of at least reacting more positively to Herheim´s as I do.
The working relationship between Daniel Barenboim
and Stefan Herheim
was not the best, with Herheim
publicly accusing Daniel Barenboim
, among other things, for extended abscence during rehearsals
(probably rightly). Daniel Barenboim
, on the other hand, publicly disagreed with Herheim
´s decision to stage the prelude, a decision it was "too late to change"
as he put it. A rather strange statement, as one may argue he could have thought about participating in the rehearsals at a point before it became "too late" for changing anything, including the director...
Being the third, and last, performance of this run, the orchestra was simply sensational. Somewhat unusual for Daniel Barenboim
, his tempi were rather brisk. But with an energy and inner sense of the dramatic structures making this easily the best conducted Lohengrin
I have heard.
Of the singers, Dorothea Röschmann
stood out as a simply wonderful and very touching Elsa. With her old-fashioned way of singing, much like that of Elisabeth Grümmer
, the dark colouring of her voice combined with superb, stylish phrasing made for a very moving experience. Unlike her Eva in last years Meistersinger
, Elsa seems to suit her well. She does reach the limit of her voice, but she doesn
´t exceed it.
Klaus Florian Vogt´s
Lohengrin has spurred starkly contrasting opinions: Admirers point to his ringing, effortless topnotes
. Detractors point to his monotonous singing. Both sides are right as I see it: Vogt
´s Lohengrin is monotonously sung and acted with the added benefit (?) of an indifferent psychopathic air to his presentation. Though he really does hit those notes, piercing effortlessly through Barenboim
´s orchestra. But contributing to any degree of interpersonal drama he does not. Neither does Stefan Herheim. At least not o
Beauty of voice or expression is not what Michaela Schuster
offers. However, her over-all portrait of Ortrud
was superb: She clearly inhabited both the comic and desperate sides to the character and delivered a very effective, vocally as well, performance. Accompanied by Gerd Grochowski´s
, singing rather well as Telramund
, but having a hard time to penetrate through Barenboim
How would René Pape
have looked running around in a naked-body suit with figleaves
and a wooden stick chasing Elsa´s bridemaids
? Fortunately (for him), his illness (he has now recovered
) prevented us from finding out and Kwangchul Youn
delivered a fine performance.
In summary, if you ask how much action and how many intellectual concepts one may put into one Wagner opera, I´d say Stefan Herheim
is the man with the answers. And if anyone should still ask who is the pre-eminent Wagnerian conductor alive, it is Daniel Barenboim
Links to most German and international reviews of the production
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Klaus Florian Vogt: 4
Dorothea Röschmann: 4-5
Michaela Schuster: 4
Gerd Grochowski: 4
Kwangchul Youn: 4
Stefan Herheim´s production: 1-2
Daniel Barenboim: 5
Overall impression: ?