Lohengrin - Royal Opera House, 27 April 2009
above - Spamengrin and Lohengralot compared
It's been tarted up with a couple of acid house back-projections, but this tired production still looks all of its 32 years. Yea verily it's tough, post-Spamalot, to swallow all the standard-waving and knights-on-Broadway costumery with a straight face.
But there's little of substance beyond. Some sort of ecclesiastical theme might be inferred from the minimal scenery - a skull-encrusted throne, a Byzantine cross, and a cow's head on a stick (or tête d'aurochs as the powerful pagan symbol is more elegantly known in French). But that's as far as it goes - the politico-religious conflict is merely acknowledged, never explored.
And after all this time, the technical failings haven't been sorted out. The scrims that ripple like net curtains, the inexplicably sandy floor which sticks to everything, and worst of all, the Bat Cave-style swan projection, barely visible under the bright lights. When a director chooses to emphasise the historical over the mythical element of Lohengrin and deny the audience a range of subjective interpretations, these are the sorts of things that need to be absolutely right. Otherwise, the spell is broken.
All this would have mattered less if the cast had shown greater engagement. But, Petra Lang's luminously unhinged Ortrud aside, it was dull, static, stand and deliver all round.
Edith Haller looked great, and she has the voice for Elsa, pure and blanched. But as yet she doesn't have it under perfect control (or the money note, which fell embarrassingly short). And her lost expression indicated a want of detailed direction.
She prays for a knight in shining armour. Johan Botha (rhymes with 'bloater') looks more like a wardrobe in a nightdress. But he can at least sing the part, though his sweet but pressured tone is not as effortlessly convincing as Klaus Florian Vogt's. Even less mobile than Pavarotti, his limited wrist-flick gesticulation gifted us two of the crappiest swordfights ever seen at Covent Garden, and his vocal stamina wilted at several points.
We might have seen a bit more action on stage had the great Falk Struckmann been well enough to perform Telramund, one of his signature roles, as scheduled. Instead, we had the able but distinctly less charismatic Gerd Grochowski. Kwangchul Youn was a less imposing Heinrich here than he was in the recent Berlin production. Boaz Daniel, marooned thanklessly up a pole for half the evening, declaimed forcefully as the Herald.
The path was clear for Semyon Bychkov to make this a conductor's night, and he did so with great care and style and attention to detail. It wasn't flawless - the Vorspiel dragged a little, there were some split notes in the brass, and once or twice some drama was sacrificed for structural symmetry. But these are niggles - the orchestra played beautifully and with great discipline for Maestro Bychkov - definitely one of the finest performances of the season.
This and this alone persuades me to return for another performance later in the run. Possibly with my eyes shut though.
******* lots more photos over teh page!!! *******