Lohengrin - Royal Opera House, 16 May 2009
Last night saw the final performance of Lohengrin at Covent Garden. It was my third visit of the run, so there's not much remaining unsaid. Though being very close to the stage this time, I did notice that what we all thought was sand strewn across the stage actually bears a closer resemblance to ready-grated parmesan cheese, or the stuff you put in the bottom of a hamster's bedding to soak up the wee. Diva litter?
The knight in a nightie was Simon O'Neill, clearly more relaxed than he was first time round. He delivered a first and second act of some beauty, his tone more open and varied than on his debut. Unfortunately fatigue or phlegm or something set in for Act Three, and it was a far bumpier ride. But he got the biggest ovation, and deserved it.
Edith Haller was also excellent, with none of the tremulousness of her first night performance remaining. Only the colossal strain of her exposed high note in the second act again let her down.
Petra Lang's fabulously detailed Ortrud was nearly matched by Gerd Grochowski's Telramund for dramatic impact. Any other time they could be accused of scenery-chewing, but in this listless production, they provide the only signs of life.
But the real reason I decided to return again was to hear Semyon Bychkov's magnificent conducting one more time, with its remarkable flow and detail. Although the brass weren't flawless on this occasion, Bychkov conjured thrilling fanfares out of them, and the unity and lyricism of the strings and woodwinds cast an Italianate glow. His reading has gathered pace throughout the run, and was dramatically all the better for it - none of the first night's dragging moments.
Bychkov recently recorded Lohengrin with some of the same cast - an SACD that despite its hefty price tag might be worth checking out.
The orchestra clearly love him, as they demonstrated with their applause at the beginning and end of the third act.
A pit-side photo-tribute:
****** more photos over page******