Royal Opera House, London
DAVID ALDEN’S patchy new production of Wagner’s Lohengrin at the Royal Opera might just scrape three stars if you’re feeling generous. But the star-ometer goes off the scale where the singing and conducting are concerned.
Let’s start with the joys of the evening. Tenor Klaus Florian Vogt is one of the most unusual and memorable Lohengrins around. His pure, sweet and soaring voice has an almost choirboy-like quality but it draws on seemingly endless reserves of power. He’s well matched by the young Irish soprano Jennifer Davis as Elsa, Lohengrin’s bride, who steps into the A-list with her radiant singing and touching stage presence.
Christine Goerke is fabulously frightening and loud — blimey, the decibels that woman can command — as the evil sorceress Ortrud, and Thomas J Mayer (Telramund) and Georg Zeppenfeld (King Heinrich) offer fine Wagnerian support. The chorus sound on fire too. And it’s all underpinned with some exciting push-the-envelope conducting from Andris Nelsons, who offers everything from barely audible pianissimi to mega-pulsing climaxes, but always keeps the orchestra taut and focused. It’s pure heaven for the ears.
For the eyes? Meh. The opera tells the story of a mysterious knight who rescues and marries a woman falsely accused of murder, but with the condition that she never ask his name. Alden sets it in an expressionistic mid-century Soviet-style dystopia, and initially seems to want to tell us a story about a downtrodden populace swayed by a charismatic leader. One minute a band of rifle-toting guards is brutalising the chorus (ooh, how the tenors clutch their heads! ah, how the basses cower!) but the next moment the chorus seem free to wander about as they please. Where did the guards go? Off for a spot of shopping? It makes as much sense as anything else in Alden’s inconsistent production, which misfires more often than it fires.