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Wagner shines amid the gloom in a new production of Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House

14 June, 2018 — By Sebastian Taylor

Jennifer Davis as Elsa von Brabant, Klaus Florian Vogt as Lohengrin. Photo: Clive Barda

An abundance of gloom is dished out in American director David Alden’s new production of Wagner’s lengthy Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House.

The pervading gloominess is due to his relocation of the opera from war-torn early mediaeval times in Antwerp to the terrible destructions suffered in 20th-century wars.

Sets are tilting, shattered buildings with windows blown out. And, of course, there’s next to no lighting as there’s no electricity. Adding to the gloominess are the dark grey costumes of the enlarged chorus acting as troops carrying guns.

One of the few sparks of brightness is the all-white costume of hero Lohengrin, come from the Holy Grail to aid the people of Brabant in warfare and to claim Elsa as his bride. Also, Elsa gets to wear a long, all-white dress when Lohen­grin comes a-wooing.

The same gloomy sets are used in all scenes except for Lohengrin’s arrival and eventual departure in a boat pulled by a swan. In addition, there’s an all-white set used for Elsa’s forlorn attempt to unmask Lohengrin’s identity which he’s forbidden to reveal by the Holy Grail.

The all-pervading gloominess makes for such a depressing contrast to Wagner’s magnificent music that you come to yearn for some brighter colouring. Nonetheless, Wagner wins due to Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons’ masterful rendition of the score – the famed shimmering Act One prelude lives up to Wagner’s description of it as “streams of gold”.

German tenor Klaus Vogt makes for a strong Lohengrin maintaining his vocal sheen through the long evening. Though, in the end, the lack of variability becomes a drag.

By contrast, Irish soprano Jennifer Davis shows how being in love should be done, exquisite phrasing combined with lovely lyricism. Other leading roles are well sung.

• Lohengrin is at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, until June 17,


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