Operas are the musical versions of Shakespeare: as long as the music and libretto remain intact, every creative team has full permission to challenge itself regarding the atmosphere, setting and ambient elements of the work. This artistic license has included many different re-imaginings of the works of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), for instance, the most recent production of "The Ring" cycle by Robert Lepage at the Metropolitan Opera this past season. Across the pond, director Hans Neuenfels takes full advantage of this philosophy in his 2011 staging of Richard Wagner’s "Lohengrin," preserved here on Blu-ray in performance at the Bayreuth Festival in Wagner’s German hometown.
Neuenfels creates a stark, geometric, pseudo-futuristic world, depicting the people of Antwerp as laboratory rats, who are manipulated by lab assistants dressed in blue medical garb. Their societal behavior falls under the spell of a knight, who has come from the Gods to defend the honor of Elsa, who has been accused of murdering her brother Gottfried by Friedrich von Telramund and his wife, Ortrud.
The quality of the recording is first-rate, and the performances are outstanding. Klaus Florian Vogt, recreating the role of Lohengrin, encompasses completely the sincerity of the knight, who trusts that Elsa will never ask him his name or origin, in exchange for lifelong happiness. Elsa, portrayed by newcomer Annette Dasch, rises admirably to the difficult role, as she guides us through her inner conflicts of love and faith throughout the piece. Petra Lang shines as Ortrud, the evil sorceress, and baritones Georg Zeppenfeld and Jukka Rasilainen provide strong support as King Heinrich and Telramund, respectively.
Bonus features include 30-minutes of interviews with the principal performers, as well as with Katharina Wagner, co-director of the Bayreuth Festival and Wagner’s great-granddaughter. The opera and all the interviews are in German and have English, French, German and Spanish subtitles. This disc is a must-have for any follower of Wagner and German opera.
Richard Wagner / Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus