For the many who gained nothing from Jones’ overarching idea, there were the singers to enjoy, their acting, and the direction’s superb craftsmanship. When has there last been a cast so good, young, and homogenous for a production of Lohengrin? From Christof Fischesser’s virile king to Evgeny Nikitin’s sung (not belted!) Herald, to Michaela Schuster’s curiously seductive, finely frayed Ortrud, and Wolfgang Koch who makes for a believable, euphonious Telramund, it is the even excellence of the singers that makes this Munich Lohengrin a feast for the ears.
Anja Harteros outshone even Jonas Kaufmann. Apart from singing with unlimited reserves of steeled luster, she pulls off being hopelessly adorable in ordinarily unflattering overalls, handling a bricklayer’s trowel. Her Elsa defiantly ignores the accusations hurled at her, insisting on building her nest… err, house, instead. Fortunately she gets a handy-man helper in the form of Kaufmann, whose gritty and earthly Lohengrin makes an ideal partner-in-masonry. After tough going for the orchestra in the first act, Nagano accompanied coolly underplaying the nationalist-romantic side of Lohengrin for the most part and mustering some real warmth during the emotional high points.
The setting is an odd mix of a 1960’s collegiate society with the red-headed men in their Brabant-High letter jackets and wavy hairdos and a vaguely fascist Telramundian regime. (Costumes and set by “Ultz”, lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin.) Building the new house (…that is post-dictatorship Germany?), the society changes into loosely Swabian costume when they consecrate Mr. & Mrs. L.’s new abode, replete with a cradle that Lohengrin later incinerates when the relationship fails. While the metaphor of the house is by now stressed well beyond the breaking point, it works rather well as a set, populated with two such consummate actors who turn Lohengrin into an intimate story of love-gained-and-lost. Actually, the interplay of all the couples, Ortrud and Telramund, Lohengrin and Elsa, is defined by great sensitivity and moving tenderness. Alas, what Richard Jones giveth, Richard Jones taketh away when he insists on instilling extraneous ideas that don’t organically develop from the story.
All images © Wilfried Hösl, courtesy Bayerische Staatsoper.