Opera News, November 2009
MUNICH — Lohengrin (7/12/09) [Trouble in Tahiti (7/10/09)] Munich Opera Festival
Upon entering Munich's Nationaltheater to attend the Bavarian State Opera's new production of Wagner's /Lohengrin /(seen July 12) — part of the 2009 Munich Festival — attendees were presented with a post-office-like handout of a "boy missing" poster. The temptation to do some serious head-shaking was irresistible. There was also a natural foreboding concerning director Richard Jones's new staging concept. Set designer Ultz created a lengthy bridge, towering over much of the stage's length, accessible on either side via a rising stairway. Members of the chorus standing on the stairs could not be seen and most probably could not be heard. Chorus members singing from the bridge were placed so far away from the action that they were constantly out of sync. General music director Kent Nagano, who never quite found the pulse of the work, muddled the communication between orchestra pit and stage: he left his cast — particularly his chorus — searching for a firm downbeat. Nagano shaded rhythms and tempos to create mood, but in so doing, he distended the architecture of Wagner's rather straightforward 4/4 composition, rendering the work an impressionistic blur.

Jones's concept spans the ages, using modern video technology as well as historic imagery. The main theme turns out to be one of construction and deconstruction, the focus being placed on Lohengrin and Elsa's future house, a wooden Swiss chalet planned meticulously by Lohengrin, whose costume identifies him as a member of the carpenter guild. Elsa is seen from the outset with the ladyfolk of Brabant, busying herself by laying stones and mortaring some sort of edifice. If Jones is trying to tell us that one first has a sense of belonging to society when one builds, then he achieved his goal. That, however, seemed to be his entire message, and it was hardly enough. It was an effective touch to let a distraught Lohengrin set his own future home (complete with baby bed) on fire after Elsa has asked the forbidden question. The rest of the production, however, is best forgotten.

With all of this in mind, why was the performance unforgettable? Quite simply because tenor Jonas Kaufmann sang a Lohengrin for the ages. Not one minute of his performance was less than extraordinary. His entrance, sung in an exquisite pianissimo, was followed by a stentorian, effulgent, beautifully sung answer to Telramund's accusations. In particular, Kaufmann's Act III was a lesson in Wagnerian vocalism, his vocal palette ranging from lyric to dramatic, his top notes thrilling, his youthful enthusiasm ever-present, his communicative talent spellbinding. Kaufmann was in total command of both his technique and his interpretation every minute. Forget the good old days! Kaufmann can stand comparison with the very best. Anja Harteros, as Elsa, was almost his equal, singing with an endless flow of seamless tonal beauty, her voice projecting in every register as well as in every dynamic. The rest of the cast, if not quite in this exalted category, was more than acceptable. Wolfgang Koch once again made an impression, this time as a strong-voiced Telramund. Michaela Schuster, in spite of her struggles with Ortrud's fiendishly difficult final outburst, was nothing less than solid. Christof Fischesser managed King Heinrich with vocal room to spare, and Evgeny Nikitin, although forced to sit upon a very high chair indeed, sang an impressive Herald.

The Munich Festival also featured a world premiere of sorts, presenting Leonard Bernstein's /Trouble in Tahiti/ .....

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