Lohengrin, Bayreuth Festival, July 2015Posted on 27 July 2015
Following the hugely successful season opener of Tristan und Isolde the previous night — see my review in the Telegraph — it was a pleasure once again to see Hans Neuenfels’ 2010 production of Lohengrin, now on its final lap before leaving the repertoire.
With the folk of Brabant represented as rats and mice, along with occasional video projections of rats fighting and gnawing their way to power, the staging shows how people can react and interact when faced with forces beyond their control. Lab rats was a phrase I heard used, but that implies a dispassionate outside force, rather than the opposing forces of good and evil that we have here. Of course Neuenfels was right on the money when it comes to 2015 where competing religious and cultural forces in parts of the world, notably the Middle East, have created an environment that would confuse any Elsa.
In this opera she is bamboozled by the mendacious and self-serving machinations of Telramund and his pagan consort Ortrud, an adept at the dark arts of irrational and semi-conscious fears. Elsa should rather be beholden to her saviour Lohengrin, an outsider needing the unconditional love and trust of a woman. She fails him, and though her failure may seem rather pathetic to us, when placed in the modern context of sectarianism and cultural confusion it seems far more forgivable.
Forgiveness at the end comes from the rebirth of Elsa’s brother Gottfried, seen here as a huge baby with umbilical cord attached. A frightful sight to be sure, but an antithesis to the antiseptic splendour of the world from which Lohengrin seeks to escape during the overture.
As Lohengrin himself, Klaus Florian Vogt was extraordinary — as in earlier years of this production a stunning stage presence with a voice that sails right past the hugely powerful chorus. Once again Annette Dasch made a beautifully pure Elsa, Petra Lang a superbly insidious Ortrud, Wilhelm Schwinghammer a dramatically insecure King Henry and Samuel Youn a strong Herald. Jukka Rasilainen as Telramund came good in his Act II accusation after an uncertain start, and Alain Altinoglu in the pit kept orchestra, singers and chorus together in a very fine rendering of the score.
Terrific audience applause and cheers at the end, with a well-deserved standing ovation for Klaus Florian Vogt.