Lohengrin - Royal Opera House, 5 May 2009
I knew this production wasn't going to be any livelier a second time round than it had been last week, but at least the evening started with a bit of excitement. As I was coming out of the lift at Covent Garden tube, a couple of hefty pork-faced blokes shoved past me and grabbed another hefty pork-faced bloke. "Police!" "Against the wall!" OK, so it's not quite The Wire, but you don't see a real live arrest every day round here.
My spirits were raised even further when I spotted Klaus Florian Vogt on his way in through the stage door. Sadly it turned out he was only on cover duty. The scheduled Lohengrin, Simon O'Neill, was in the rudest of health for his role debut. His vocal stamina couldn't be faulted, and he managed a degree of physical movement beyond the wildest fantasies of his co-knight Johan Botha. Smaller man-bewbs too.
Personally I didn't care for O'Neill's bright, piercing tenor in this role, but he could undeniably hit all the notes, and he drilled them to the back of the auditorium effortlessly. His phrasing was less convincing, most egregiously in his emphatic underlining of the verb in bin Lohengrin genannt (at this point I thought of Klaus Florian Vogt sipping tea and doing crosswords down in the bowels and wept a little tear). He suffered even more than the rest of the cast from the general lack of physical direction. Certainly an effective performance, but lacking in insight - my general feeling was that he needs more time - and guidance - to build a coherent idea of this role in a way that works for him.
The rest of the cast seemed more relaxed than they had on the first night, and every one of them sang better. Although Edith Haller was often a little flat, she sang with better control and more confidence, and clearly had greater rapport with O'Neill than Botha.
Petra Lang's performance was reined in a little, and all the better for it. And in her near-silent first act she provided an object lesson in how to create a character without singing a note. Her long second act scene with Gerd Grochowski's brilliantly dim-witted, besotted Telramund was easily the most dramatically engaging part of the evening.
Only Kwangchul Youn disappointed, sounding older and tireder than I've ever heard him before - illness, perhaps?
The chorus were more polished than they had been on the first night, let down only by a slightly underpowered first act (I wonder how much of this was simply down to their position, miles upstage), and particularly rousing as they crowded the front of the stage in the last act.
But once again the real stars of the evening were the orchestra, sounding even better than they had on opening night, all blips ironed out. The strings glowed and shimmered with the rare unity of purpose so essential to Lohengrin's dense textures. Semyon Bychkov's reading was more embedded in the drama this time round, more flexible and daring, less slavishly tied to the score. Dripping with sweat by the end, he quite rightly got the biggest ovation of the night.
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