The Age, May 15, 2022
By Barney Zwartz
Wagner: Lohengrin, Melbourne, ab 14. Mai 2022
OPERA - Lohengrin ★★★★★
Melbourne opera lovers jam-packed the State Theatre on Saturday to hear German tenor Jonas Kaufmann – the world’s most celebrated opera singer right now – in perhaps his signature role as Wagner’s Lohengrin.

He was absolutely thrilling, but he wasn’t alone. All the production’s parts – principals, chorus, orchestra, conductor, direction, sets – came together in a truly memorable performance and an evening to cherish. If this isn’t worth five stars, nothing is.

Lohengrin is Wagner’s last great romantic opera before his mind turned toward the Ring cycle and he missed the premiere having fled Germany as a rather ambivalent revolutionary in 1848. As conductor Christian Thielemann put it: “Wagner does extraordinary things to the psyche of his audience simply by means of the instrumentation. It is the purest eroticism expressed as sound.”

A joint production with La Monnaie Theatre of Brussels, this Lohengrin moved from 10th-century Belgium to the ruins of Berlin immediately after World War II – and it worked well, allowing not-too obtrusive political point-making. The massive moving sets were a dominating presence, even if some aspects mystified me. The duel between Lohengrin and Telramund became a game of chess (with black given first move!) while the orchestra vividly portrayed a sword fight; the famous swan was represented by just a bunch of feathers.

Kaufmann met every expectation: extraordinary clarity and articulation, always right in the middle of the note, ravishing but penetrating pianissimos, effortless high notes, and riveting emotional presence. He might have noted tiny things he could have done better, but I didn’t.

The rest of the cast was also splendid, especially mezzo Elena Gabouri in a superb voice as a conniving, malevolent Ortrud and Melbourne baritone Simon Meadows, who is deservedly breaking into big productions, as a tortured Telramund, Ortrud’s co-villain.

American soprano Emily Magee as Elsa has the challenge of appearing innocent and naive while singing with great maturity; she rose to it beautifully. Bass Daniel Sumegi mostly seems to stand around looking noble as King Heinrich, but he matched it with noble singing, while the ever-reliable Warwick Fyfe was a stentorian herald.

Lohengrin is the first opera in which Wagner made the chorus a real protagonist, and the augmented Opera Australia chorus was excellent. Again, it was matched by a brilliant Orchestra Victoria, sensitively conducted by Tahu Matheson from the ethereal opening high strings to the magnificent brass.

In all, a wonderful night, and gratifying to see that, post-pandemic, opera can still fill the biggest theatres. Reviewed by Barney Zwartz

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