Lohengrin, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, May 2013Posted on 30 May 2013
At the end of this illuminating new production by the WNO, Elsa’s younger brother Gottfried assumes the symbols of power left for him by Lohengrin, causing the assembled forces of the army, except the King and Herald, to cower away. He then raises his hand against Ortrud in her glorious red dress, and she crumples, just as Lohengrin has earlier raised his arm to defeat Telramund in Act I, and kill him in Act III.
Directed and designed by Antony McDonald, this co-production with the Polish National Opera shows Gottfried in the form of the swan on its first appearance, so we the audience see what the characters in the action do not, trapped as they are by their own limitations. Only Lohengrin and Ortrud know more, and Elsa is torn apart by these two opposing forces of light and darkness.
Susan Bickley as Ortrud gave a gripping performance. Her interactions with the finely sung Elsa of Emma Bell showed great guile and power, and even in Act I while she sang not a note, her stage persona demonstrated huge resources of evil intent. The King Henry of Matthew Best clearly sees her duplicity when Telramund puts forward his accusations, and despite suffering from a throat infection, Best gave a well-nuanced portrayal of strength and sympathy.
Claudio Otelli as Telramund, replacing the indisposed John Lundgren, gave a terrific performance of self-justified irascibility, and his appearance at a window during the wedding procession in Act II looked like a late Renaissance portrait of male fury. Appearances like that, at the window or on the upper level, helped frame the inner feelings of the characters, and the trumpets — oh, those trumpets! — in various auditorium boxes served as glorious heralds of the action.
Peter Wedd sang beautifully as Lohengrin, his stage presence representing a purity that grew in strength during the evening, and the well-designed set for the bedroom scene between him and Elsa in Act III, with its wall just behind the singers, showed their voices to great advantage. Here Lohengrin came over with huge nobility and power, and during this turning point in the opera, Ms Bell skilfully showed her brave hopes turning to increasing angst.
In the orchestra pit, Lothar Koenigs allowed Wagner’s music its full range of magic, producing a memorable performance, aided by thrilling sounds from the chorus.
This report was on the performance of May 29, and further performances of this excellent production take place at the Cardiff Millennium Centre (June 1) and the Birmingham Hippodrome (June 13 and 15) — for details click here.