Wednesday 28 September 2011

Kaufmann Lohengrin DVD with Harteros, Richard Jones from Munich

Lohengrin. DVD. Bayerische Staatsoper München 2009. Production: Richard Jones. Conductor: Kent Nagano. Cast: Jonas Kaufmann (Lohengrin), Anja Harteros (Elsa), Michaela Schuster (Ortrud), Wolfgang Koch (Telramund), Christoph Fischesser (Heinrich).

Richard Jones´ production of Lohengrin in Munich was The Wagnerian Talk of the Season 2009-10 mainly as this was Jonas Kaufmann´s debut in the title role. As well as his first major role in a new production in his home-town Munich, where he was never recognized until he undisputedly had made his name elsewhere.

It seems like Richard Jones concept evolves around an ironic interpretation of the bourgeois dream, of a traditional living and family, with Elsa and Lohengrin quite literally building a house together dressed as carpenters. A house, which Lohengrin eventually sets on fire when he leaves. Now, I have seen several productions by Richard Jones, which work. Most notably a superb Rusalka in Copenhagen a couple of seasons ago. Thus speaking, he is capable. So, one wonders what òr who on earth made him think that extracting all the interpersonal drama replacing it with something as boring as watching people building a wooden house works? To be answered clearly: It does not work. Some free advice: Forcing a fixed idea onto an opera with no seeming interest in the personal relations almost never works.

Jonas Kaufmann was exactly the stellar Lohengrin he was made out to be - romantic, present, and with a barytonal sound, that I honestly prefer. He doesnt always sound entirely effortless, but neither did Domingo in his prime. Please, could we see Jonas Kaufmann in another production?
Anja Harteros received unanimous praise for her Elsa, both during the run of performances and for this DVD. As for this DVD, I simply do not agree. She has the bloom and the legato lines, but for me, the two major detractors about her singing is 1) she basically leaves me cold and 2) she is singing out of tune. As for 2), she may have had an off night, as her intonation has been spot-on the times I have heard her live, but "einsam in trüben tagen" was about 1/4 note flat more often than not. Admittedly she warmed up during the 2nd act, but I am really allergic to singers being flat.
The former Munich opera intendant found the originally contracted Waltraud Meier too old for the part and replaced her with the passable, but nothing more, Michaela Schuster. Crazy. However, the new intendant does not agree, so now one may see Waltraud Meiers Ortrud in Munich.
 Also crazy that the producer didn´t chose another night for filming Telramunds major scene, Act 2 scene 1, as the otherwise competent Wolfgang Koch was about a tact behind the conductor at several of his outbursts.

Kent Nagano is far better here than on his previous DVD from Baden-Baden, less restrained, with more passion - hovewer his transparency will never put him in the league of great Wagnerian such as Thielemann or Barenboim, just two mention two currently active.

So unless you are a die-very-hard fan of Jonas Kaufmann, look elsewhere for a Lohengrin on DVD.

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

Jonas Kaufmann: 5
Anja Harteros: 3
Michaela Schuster: 3
Wolfgang Koch: 3
Christoph Fischesser: 3-4

Richard Jones: 2
Nagano: 3

Overall impression: 2 - because on DVD the director really does count


Anonymous said...

Can´t agree with your opinion about Harteros as Elsa. She is just awsome here and her interpretation justly outshone Kaufmann as Lohengrin. She is simply outstanding Elsa by any standards and "flat" is exactly what she is not.


mostly opera... said...

By "flat" I simply mean, that she hits the notes too low. Her intonation is simply not solid on this disc. Perhaps it was completely different hearing her live (which I didnt). I have heard her several times and normally her intonation is quite solid (while Kaufmann is not always) so I´d say she probably did have an off night or perhaps she was indisposed.

marcillac said...

Hi Mostly. Great to see you blogging again.

I think, and perhaps its a matter of taste, you are being a little harsh on Harteros. Unusually for her, the intonation is not ideal at the beginning but it improves and she is superb in the duet with Kaufmann in Act III.

Its impossible to imagine that someone would prefer Schuster to Meier if the latter were willing to sing the role. I saw her in this last July and (especially with Peter Seiffert and Emily Magee having off nights) she stole the show (as she typically does even with stronger casting).

The production is hardly optimal but you should see their new Don G. Ugh!!

Capriccioblog said...

The funny thing about intonation with voices is that it's so personal what one person finds flat, and another doesn't.

For instance I can't listen to the famous Arabella recordings by Lisa Della Casa because I find her painfully flat in so many of the key arias. I've never heard anyone else complain of this.

Karita Mattila tends to sing just below the note, yet the sound is so beautiful (better in the theatre than on record). This bothers some people more than others.

Late career Kiri also sat just on the flat side of the note, very subtle, but it's part of her particular timbre. I know someone who knows her voice so well that he is convinced that Fleming sings sharp in the same reperoire!

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