Lohengrin, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, June 2018

Opening night of this new production under the baton of Andris Nelsons was musical perfection.

Lohengrin defeats Telramund, all images ROH/ Clive Barda

Covent Garden even managed to bring in Klaus Florian Vogt, arguably the top Lohengrin in the world, who has sung the role numerous times at Bayreuth. For English audiences unused to hearing him, his heavenly voice carries the full power of the sacred forces that sent him to rescue Elsa from her distress. Her role was beautifully sung by Irish soprano Jennifer Davis, recently a member of the Royal Opera’s Young Artists programme, who took over from Kristine Opolais at relatively short notice. Ms Davis was terrific, as was American mezzo Christine Goerke as a baleful and threatening Ortrud, her presence emphasised by a glorious red dress and black veil in the wedding scene.

Arrival of the swan

Luxury casting with Georg Zeppenfeld (a superb Gurnemanz at Bayreuth in recent years) as King Henry, showing admirable uncertainty and effortless vocal distinction. A dramatic presence by German baritone Thomas J Mayer as Ortrud’s foolish husband Telramund, and if his voice lost its centre at times it made up for it in fierce defiance. I loved the freeze by his four followers as they burst into the bedroom (where a Lohengrin painting by August von Heckel adorns the wall above the bed) only to find their master dead on the floor.

Wedding couple with Ortrud in the background

This production by David Alden had some strong moments and added Nazi allusions in the final scene where black and red banners emblazoned with the motif of the swan unfurl from on high. After the banners fall to the ground, Elsa’s brother Gottfried, transformed by Ortrud into a swan before the opera starts, crawls out from under one of them, recalling the entry of Elsa herself in Act I where she climbs onto the stage from a trap door.

The oblique angles of Paul Steinberg’s massive sets suggest a kingdom whose foundations are subsiding, with mixed-period costumes centred on the 1940s and 50s and German style helmets for the massed troops in the final scene. With this context in mind, Adam Silverman’s lighting seemed to represent beating helicopter wings for the arrival of the swan in Act I, allusions to the allied forces of World War II perhaps.

“In fernem Land”

Certainly an impending battle between good and evil is represented in the music, and with terrific singing from the chorus and occasional fanfares from within the auditorium, Andris Nelsons conducted a performance of enormous power and subtlety.

Performances continue on various dates until July 1 — for details click here.

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