"Lass zu dem Glauben dich bekehren: Es gibt ein Glück, das ohne Reu! " sings Elsa von Brabant, confronting Ortrud. At this point, Eva's love for her mystery Knight is so pure, that she asks no questions. Happiness, with no regret or doubt. But then she goes on to grill her bridegroom, and all falls apart. Why shouldn't a girl know who she's getting into bed with? Why is the secret so extreme that Lohengrin must reject this great love for Montsalvat? Wagner Lohengrin at the Wiener Staatsoper was live screened last night. and should, hopefully be available in the archive. Watch it if you can, because it's very thoughtful indeed, and links Lohengrin to Parsifal on many intriguing levels. Plus the singing - Klaus Florian Vogt is divine and conductor Mikko Frank reveals sonorous, disturbing mysteries in the score.
The motto "Es gibt ein Glück" appears on the drop cloth, and later in a painting on the back wall of the set, much as in the way mottos - and hearts - appear so often in traditional German settings. Heinrich "der Deutschen König", with his Saxons and Thuringians, has come to Brabant, then one of the Frankish lands. Dressed in fustian and Lederhosen, they present an image of German-ness at once domestic and militaristic.These men are in armour, though their uniform, their buttoned-up jackets suggesting repressed violence and conformity, much more effectively than flashy mock medieval coats of armour or neo-Nazi brownshirts. Thus Elsa (Camilla Nylund) in her white shift seems painfully exposed. Ortrud (Michaela Martens) girded in metal-studded velvet is every inch a warrior. Telramund (Wolfgang Koch) is a convincing leader but also compromised and world-weary. When Lohengrin appears, he's in a white shift which billows like the wings of a swan. It's a provocative reference to the way Parsifal wandered into the Grail community. Director Andreas Homoki uses costume to amplify character. As the balance of power shifts, Elsa and Lohengrin dress up while Ortrud dresses down.
The simplicity of the set focuses attention on the singing and on the dynamics between singers. The folkloric setting also emphasizes the divison between men and women, another subtle counterpoint to the misogynist world of Montsalvat. The women of Brabant know their place in society but support Elsa. The chorus in the wedding is delightfully lyrical. The staging once again evokes the image of a swan. In the prologue, Nylund held a swan while she played with her brother: clearly it's a symbol of purity and innocence. Yet swans are mute until they die. Homoki hints at levels of interpretation but keeps them elusive. Later, when Lohengrin prepares to take his leave, Vogt is seen writhing on the ground, his body twitching like a dying bird. His acting is extraordinarily moving, suggesting pain and regret. "Es gibt ein Glück, das ohne Reu!" resounds, unspoken, in memory.
Camilla Nylund's voice is pure, and the clarity of her diction suggests underlying strength of character. Nylund's Elsa interacts well with Michaela Marten's Ortrud. Neither of them are exaggerated stereotypes, both feel like real women caught up in an extreme situation. Wolfgang Koch's Telramund is no monster : the softer inflections in his voice suggest a man trapped almost against his will. Günther Groissböck's Heinrich der Vogler is cleanly assertive - we can savour the interplay between tenor, baritone and bass and ponder even more hidden levels of meaning. Detlev Roth makes the Herald feel much more part of the proceedings than usual. Altogether, this Lohengrin feels deeply human and all the more compelling for that reason
But as I said earlier, Klaus Florian Vogt is divine. He has created the role numerous times, yet manages to make this portrayal sparkle with freshness and individuality. In his Act Three dialogue with Nylund's Elsa, Vogt's voice becomes powerfully intense: is this the battle he has been sent to be tested for? Saving Elsa from the court of judgement was easy in comparison. When Vogt sings In fernem Land, his voice seems to radiate a spiritual quality. His voice softens for a moment on the words "meine Lieber Schwan" then moves on ever more refined, as if he's reaching apotheosis. [His performance moved me so much that I haven't stopped wondering about the role. Have the Grail Knights, despite the intervention of Parsifal, continued in their old ways ? Whoever his mother is, has Lohengrin been sent to learn the errors of blind faith and obedience without question?] After listening to this Vienna Lohengrin, I listened again to the recent Munich and Milan Lohengrin with Jonas Kaufmann. Kaufmann fans will want to kill me, but Klaus Florian Vogt (whose range is higher) is in an altogether more elevated league.