Financial Times, 25 January 2017
by: Shirley Apthorp
Wagner: Lohengrin, Paris, Opera Bastille, 24. Januar 2017
Lohengrin, Opéra National de Paris — ‘Kaufmann’s refined control’
The tenor returns from sickness in a musically delicate production of Wagner’s opera
Why do people do it? Certainly not for the swan. Wagner’s Lohengrin is a long sit, and most people don’t spend a good chunk of money for nearly five hours of contemplating a knight and his waterbird.

But the Paris Opera’s production is a sellout success. It must be because of the music. And it probably has a great deal to do with the presence of star tenor Jonas Kaufmann in the title role.

This marks Kaufmann’s comeback after four months off sick for a burst blood vessel in his vocal cords. Nobody can sing Lohengrin quite like Kaufmann. That fragile sweetness, that wounded innocence, that undercurrent of crackling masculinity. You could put him alone on a black stage and it would still be blisteringly good drama.

So there were two bread-and-circuses draw-cards to the Paris Lohengrin. Can Kaufmann still sing? And how would general music director Philippe Jordan fare in his first ever crack at the work?

Apparently Kaufmann can still sing. Perhaps with a trifle more caution than before, but all the lush beauty and refined control are there.

Jordan’s direction is quite different from that of his erstwhile mentor Daniel Barenboim, who conducted this production when it was new at Milan’s La Scala four years ago. While Barenboim’s Lohengrin is all curtained mysticism, transcendence and ethereal purity, Jordan’s is a more nuts-and-bolts affair, transparent, delicate, but also human, never overblown or sentimental.

Perhaps that is why Claus Guth’s production also looks less otherworldly in Paris than it did in Milan. Lohengrin is still a barefooted bundle of neuroses in a rigid world of Bismarck-style militarism; Elsa is still the repressed girl-child. And is there a whiff of something incestuous in the bridegroom’s resemblance to the lost little brother? But under Jordan’s laser-clean direction, the whole thing appears more grim, less hallucinogenic.

Wolfgang Koch and Evelyn Herlitzius make a wonderfully dark yet nuanced pair of evildoers as Telramund and Ortrud, René Pape warms from a weary to an authoritative Heinrich, while Edith Haller, replacing the indisposed Martina Serafin, produces some passages of sweet radiance as Elsa.

Those who did go for the swan will have been disappointed. Guth eschews overt avian appearances; one passing wing and a few handfuls of feathers are as close as it gets. That is probably just as well.

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