SF Opera's Lohengrin

_74A5437* Notes * 
David Alden's Lohengrin opened at San Francisco Opera on October 15, but I only managed to attend the fourth performance on Tuesday. The orchestra sounded perfectly transparent and there was much lovely singing including a powerful chorus.

Music Director Eun Sun Kim gets a very clear sound out of the orchestra, I feel like I can hear all the parts neatly stacked up, it feels very vertical and lucid to me. It was very different than Luisotti's performance of this work with San Francisco Opera back in 2012, and I feel lucky to be able to hear the contrast.

This very dark and incoherent production (Act I pictured, photograph by Cory Weaver) comes from the Royal Opera House, London, and likely works a lot better in that smaller space. It premiered back in 2018, and uses a lot of war imagery, there are guns and spears. The costumes are mostly from the 1930s but then Elsa inexplicably wears a slip dress and footless tights in Act I that are very 1990s. It's also really difficult to see what is going on, and the singers sound different depending on how the stage is set up or where they are standing within the stage. I did like the way everything seemed to be on rollers and it all went very smoothly. And there were a few very funny moments, like when Elsa's fluffy wedding gown descended from the ceiling in Act II and when Lohengrin shoves the marital bed across the floor in Act III.

_75A5506The chorus sounded wonderful, very full and cohesive. Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson sounded very shaky as King Heinrich, but perhaps it works for this role. In his San Francisco Opera debut baritone Thomas Lehman sounded very nice as the King’s Herald, his voice is pretty, but Alden had him act in some unsavory ways, he tries to shoot Elsa in the final scene. Mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi (pictured in Act II with Simon O'Neill and Julie Adams, photograph by Cory Weaver) likewise had a strong San Francisco Opera debut, her icy sound was downright terrifying. Her singing was very much well-suited to Ortrud.

I love the warm resonances of baritone Brian Mulligan, but his voice is too lovely and sympathetic for Friedrich von Telramund. It was a bit disorienting for me, as I have pretty recently heard Mulligan as the Herald in the Met's broadcast last season. As Elsa von Brabant, soprano Julie Adams has a beautiful, honeyed sound, but it's not very pure and innocent which would work better for her part. Tenor Simon O'Neill certainly paced himself well as Lohengrin, he was very consistent. His sound is loud and cuts through the orchestra, but has an unpleasant thin reediness to it.

* Tattling * 
There was a surprising amount of talking as the singers were singing. Usually Wagner attracts focused listeners, but people both in front of me in Row J of the orchestra level and behind me in Row L spoke at various times. There was also a lot of coughing and sneezing, and I myself had a coughing fit in Act II which I mostly got under control with some hot tea as quickly as I could.

Lots of people also left at each intermission, so that by the end I could see the conductor because fewer people were blocking my view.

Lohengrin at the Bayreuther Festspiele

Lohengrin-2013 * Notes * 
Last night's performance of Lohengrin at the Bayreuther Festspiele was compelling. The orchestra sounded clear and fresh under the baton of Andris Nelsons, without ever being dull or devoid of passion. The brass was perfectly clear, as did the strings and the woodwinds. Nelsons also struck a fine balance between the instrumentalists and singers, and only rarely overwhelmed the latter. The chorus also sounded remarkably beautiful and in unison.

The rest of the singing was even. Samuel Youn has impressive hair as Der Heerrufer des Königs, and sang nicely. Petra Lang was an impassioned and insistent Ortrud. Thomas J. Mayer (Friedrich von Telramund) does not have a particularly rich voice, but was suitably threatening. Wilhelm Schwinghammer was not the most commanding König Heinrich, but gave a satisfactory perforrmance. Annette Dasch made for a sweet-voiced Elsa von Brabant. Klaus Florian sounded bright and pleasantly brassy in the title role, his voice cut through the chorus and orchestra with ease.

The production from Hans Neuenfels certainly appears to have an internal consistency, featuring chorus members dressed as laboratory rats. Said rodents were a skillful combination of cute and creepy. Everyone moved elegantly. At various times the treatment of the swan used taxidermy, bathtubs, and sculpture. It was all entirely entertaining, though it was not clear to me what any of it had to do with Wagner's opera, despite the fact it was all splendidly coordinated with the music.

* Tattling * 
There were scattered whispers when only the orchestra played. The audience laughed when the lab rats did funny things, especially the small pink ones that must have employed child supernumeraries. A couple in front of us in the middle of the twenty-second row read the vocal score.

A very nice couple from Düsseldorf let Axel Feldheim and I practice German with them at our shared table during the second intermission.

SF Opera's Lohengrin

Sfopera-lohengrin-act-1-2012* Notes *
Lohengrin opened at San Francisco Opera last night. The production is new to the house, and has been seen in Geneva and Houston. Inspired by the Hungary of 1956, the action takes place within what looks to be a library. Designed by Robert Innes Hopkins, the set (Act I pictured left, photograph by Cory Weaver) makes for clear transformation of scenes, especially with the lighting from Simon Mills. The costumes, also by Hopkins, are sharp. Director Daniel Slater fills in the narrative nicely, and Act II is especially thoughtful.

In contrast, Maestro Luisottti had a more painterly style with the music. The orchestra had a vivid sound, but could have had slightly more focus. The tempi of the musicians in the pit did not always match those on stage. The chorus sang with full-blooded vigor, making up for the moments of asynchronicity.

It seems that San Francisco Opera is on a roll with casting this season. Brian Mulligan made for a rich-toned King's Herald. Kristinn Sigmundsson sang Heinrich der Volger with strength, and the quality of his vibrato works better for Wagner than the Mozart we heard on the War Memorial stage last summer. Gerd Grochowski convinced as the conflicted Friedrich von Telramund, though his voice has no small beauty to it.

Petra Lang seemed pitchy, but this did not detract from her Ortrud. Her voice has a certain voluptuousness to it, her carriage and movements are impeccable. Camilla Nylund sounded rather sweet and ethereal as Elsa. Her highest notes did not sound as pretty as the rest of her voice, reminding me of something in-between tinsel and glass. However, this made her fall all the more believable. Brandon Jovanovich had a triumphant role debut as Lohengrin. His voice is vibrant with a good deal of volume. He did sound the most sublime when singing softly.

* Tattling * 
The audience was quiet and attentive, at least on the orchestra level. There was surprisingly little audience attrition between acts. There were also very few people in standing room.

LA Opera's Lohengrin

La-opera-lohengrin * Notes *
Yesterday's matinée performance of Lohengrin opened at Los Angeles Opera was the second of six. The new production, designed by Dirk Hofacker and directed by Lydia Steier, is exceedingly silly. The set is on a turntable and appears to be set amidst German ruins in a Prussian army camp. One especially enjoyed the fact that the swan that brings Lohengrin is a bed covered tent (pictured left with Soile Isokoski and Ben Heppner, photograph by Robert Millard). The choreography was not well-motivated and perhaps merely served the set, which was rotated at various points. At times it seemed that people rushed aimlessly around the stage and ended up at their marks too early.

Maestro Conlon kept the music going at a good pace. For the most part the woodwinds sounded pretty. The brass make a few mistakes, especially in Act II, but managed to be effective. The chorus was lovely, though again, as with Rigoletto, there were a few times when synchronization was a problem. "Treulich geführt" came off beautifully, sounding clear and together.

There were many familiar faces in the cast. Robert MacNeil and Greg Fedderly were the First and Second Noblemen, while Domingo-Thornton Young Artists Matthew Anchel and Museop Kim were the Third and Fourth. Baritone Eike Wilm Schulte was the Herald. All sang nicely.

Most of the principal singers were impressive. Dolora Zajick made for the perfect Ortrud, she sang with strength, richness, and with appropriate haughtiness. James Johnson played a tormented Friedrich von Telramund, his voice too is robust. Kristinn Sigmundsson sounded noble as King Heinrich.

Soile Isokoski gleamed as Elsa, and sounded particularly sublime in "Einsam in trüben Tage." Some of her lower notes in Act II were not as lucid as her high ones. In the title role, Ben Heppner struggled. From the start the production did not make him seem heroic. When he emerged from the tent he hardly cut a fine figure, as his coat was unbuttoned, which was not a flattering look. If Heppner was in good voice, this would not have mattered, but unfortunately this was not the case. He had a few good moments, his voice has a warmth to it, and volume. However, he wailed his way up to high notes that were strained and rough. It was painful to hear him hail Elsa in Act II and he even cracked badly in the last act.

* Tattling * 
Nearly every type of unpleasant behavior was on display from the audience members in Balcony B. The couple in K 40 and 41 talked nearly every time a soloist was not singing, so even during the famous Bridal March. The woman in L 37 unwrapped cough drops and incessantly scratched herself during Act I, but had the good sense to leave, as she clearly was not feeling well. Someone in Row M tapped her stiletto heels against the concrete floor distractedly, while someone else in Row L quietly sang along. A mobile phone rang during Act II, but it was on so low that he or she did not even hear it, and did not turn it off. There was periodic beeping, perhaps from a recording device. Flash photographs were taken during the ovation. The worst offender was a person at the back of the house with a very loud phone, which rang at the end of the opera on four separate occasions.

Bayerische Staatsoper's 2008-2009 Season

October 2 2008- July 24 2009: Macbeth
October 4-11 2008: Das Gehege / Salome
October 5 2008- July 13 2009: Norma
October 19-25 2008: Die Bassariden
October 23- November 2 2008: Eugene Onegin
November 1-6 2008: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
November 8 2008- May 21 2009: Der fliegende Holländer
November 10 2008- January 31 2009: Wozzeck
November 22 2008- March 27 2009: Tamerlano
November 24 2008- July 26 2009: Luisa Miller
November 28 2008- July 7 2009: Werther
December 9-14 2008: Doktor Faustus
December 13-18 2008: Hänsel und Gretel
December 17 2008- May 31 2009: La Bohème
December 21-28 2008: Die Zauberflöte
December 23 2008- June 15 2009: La Traviata
December 31 2008- February 24 2009: Die Fledermaus
January 4-10 2009: Carmen
January 19- July 14 2009: Palestrina
February 2-18 2009: Elektra
February 7- July 22 2009: Nabucco
February 20-26 2009: La Calisto
February 23- July 6 2009: Lucrezia Borgia
March 1- July 31 2009: Falstaff
March 14- July 30 2009: Otello
April 8- July 9 2009: Jenůfa
April 9-12 2009: Parsifal
April 26- May 2 2009: Così fan tutte
May 13-15 2009: Madama Butterfly
May 16-23 2009: Le Nozze di Figaro
June 8-30 2009: Aida
July 5-19 2009: Lohengrin
July 13-20 2009: Ariadne auf Naxos
June 14- July 30 2009: Idomeneo

Nicola Luisotti is conducting a new production of Macbeth next season at the Bavarian State Opera. Željko Lučić sings the title role, Nadja Michael sings Lady Macbeth, and Dimitri Pittas is Macduff. Anna Netrebko sings in the May performances of La Bohème, with Joseph Calleja as her Rodolfo. John Relyea sings Colline. Relyea is also singing the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, with Lucas Meachem as the Count. Angela Gheorghiu is Violetta Valéry in the June performances of La Traviata, singing opposite Jonas Kaufmann. Simon Keenlyside is Germont. Paolo Gavanelli sings the title role of Nabucco during the Münchner Opernfestspiele 2009. Earlier in the year he also sings Sharpless in Madama Butterfly.

New Productions for 2008-2009 | Official Site


LohengrinseattleStephen Wadsworth's production of Lohengrin at Seattle Opera was dull. The set, designed by Thomas Lynch, was angular and somewhat tawdry. The worst part was definitely the end, when the swan appeared. It was this over-sized robot, reminiscent of a Disneyland character. The best part may have been soprano Jane Eaglen, who is certainly more suited for Ortrud than for Turandot or Ariadne.