By Ross Whitelaw
Lohengrin 21 August, 2022
Tonight’s performance was the last of the run of the current Lohengrin directed by Rosa Loy and Neo Rauch. After Bayreuth’s month-long absence of rain was broken over the weekend, today dawned bright and blue – almost matching the colour scheme of the opera. Although the contrasting orange in the production was reflected somewhat in the Not Quite Green Hill.
The switch to the new caterers seemed to go smoothly with reasonable queues and a good range of options available. The sausage man may have to work a bit harder though.
It was a very enjoyable performance, with Klaus Florian Vogt taking the title role in fine voice, although his is an acquired taste. High and ringing though it is, it can be a bit one dimensional, to my ear, especially when compared to Piotr Beczala’s interpretation as essayed here in 2019. And of course, we have been spoilt by Jonas Kaufmann’s bravura performance in Melbourne earlier this year.
Camilla Nylund’s Elsa was excellent, but not a great interpretation. Petra Lang as Ortrud had none of the vocal or stage excitement of the 2019 interpreter, Russian Elena Patrakova who made the opera hers. Lang’s performance was definitely the weakest link.
Georg Zeppenfeld as King Henry has this role well in his repertoire and was a joy to hear with solid, clear bass all the way through.
Australian Derek Welton as the Herald goes from strength and seems to have become a Bayreuth fixture. I’m sure he will go on to bigger roles for this company and others as the years progress.
The chorus under Chorusmaster Eberhard Friedrich reflects the care and attention paid to this aspect of operatic performance and they received warm applause.
The biggest ovation went to Christian Thielemann and the orchestra – it was well deserved from the shimmering first notes of the prelude to the final curtain. He was always in control and brought out some fine playing, made even more of a treat for operagoers by the acoustic of the theatre. I have yet to hear the new acoustic of the Sydney Opera House concert hall and I will be interested in the comparison.
In short, a good night at the opera.
Tannhäuser 24 August 2022
Just before curtain-up, the dreaded announcer came on stage to groans from the audience and gave us the news that Manni Laudenbach was unwell and that Mick Morris Mehnert would be taking his place. So not so bad as of course it is not a singing role. Innovative and creative camera work and direction accompanied the overture – distracting or scene setting depending on your point of view. When first seen in 2019, I thought the latter but tonight I was more inclined to the former view as the Tannhäuser overture is one to be savoured when combined with the Festspielhaus acoustic. I would have liked to have it wash over me but couldn’t take my eyes off the on stage and screen antics.
Wagner’s artistic consideration of the divide between artistic, moral and emotional freedom and personal and traditional duty and obligation is clearly delineated for us in the first act, with even the theatregoers (ourselves) being incorporated into the performance.
Tradition at Bayreuth anyone? Act two takes us into the nuts and bolts of the dilemma. Tannhäuser having to cope with the real world – a challenge he ultimately fails. Again, some might find that all that is going on on the stage and in video projection a distraction, however the main focus is on Elisabeth. Lise Davidsen’s entry to sing “Dich teure Halle” is one of the operatic moments I will not forget. Her appearance in 2019 sent shivers up my spine for the power and clarity of her voice and I thought that this time, the effect would be muted for having been anticipated but I was wrong.
Act three brought a focused resolution with a bleak yet considered set and fine direction.
This production has as fine a set of singers as one could hope for. Stephen Gould was even better than in the 2019 iteration. Fully in command of the vocal and dramatic elements of the character of Tannhäuser. His male compatriots, Markus Eiche, as Wolfram von Eschenbach, is an outstanding baritone and the venerable Albert Dohmen, as the Landgraf, a venerable bass.
Ekaterina Gubanova as Venus gave a creditable performance, although to my mind, her stand-in from 2019 gave it more verve and a sharper edge. Still, no criticisms of her from me.
Chorus work was of the highest standards, although there was one loud boo from someone who I think had it in for the chorus as even when the chorusmaster, Eberhard Friedrich took a solo bow, the boo reappeared.
The orchestra under the baton of Axel Kober played admirably and was well received at curtain call.
Der fliegende Holländer 27 August 2022
I had much anticipated this performance, having seen it on DVD and Tcherniakov being one of my favourite directors. Georg Zeppenfeld as Daland and Elisabeth Tiege whom I liked as Freia in Die Walküre added to the anticipation.
All completely justified in this thoughtful, well-staged (who would have thought that buildings could dance) production. Zeppenfeld lived up to my expectations both in the vocal and acting departments – solid bass across his range. Elisabeth Tiege sang her troubled Senta in anguished yet clear tones and we will hear more of her in years to come. Eric Cutler as Eric sang with great beauty and his tone and phrasing reminded one that Wagner was struggling to get out of the grip that Italian opera had on his contemporaries but had not yet quite broken all ties.
The Holländer of Thomas J Meyer was menacing and dark and fit the role well. Only Nadine Weissmann as Mary disappointed. Having heard her sing Erda in the Castorf Ring some years ago, I felt she was not up to the quality of the rest of the cast.
Tcherniakov’s direction was thoughtful, telling a somewhat different story from the classic interpretation with emphasis on the relationship between him and the townsfolk/society in general which shaped his interpersonal relationships. Much comment and discussion were generated by this approach.
The conducting of Oksana Lyniv was impeccable and she was able to realise a sound from the pit which has been seemingly beyond Cornelius Meister so far in the first two operas of the Ring. Her efforts were suitably rewarded with much applause from the audience. And finally, the chorus was as good as usual.
An interesting, thought provoking and musically satisfying performance.