Review: 'Lohengrin', Melbourne Opera, August 2017


Lohengrin - Melbourne Opera

By Michael Chesterman

Melbourne Opera’s Production of Lohengrin - 7, 10, 12 & 19 August 2017

Given that Melbourne Opera receives no government funding, the standards achieved in this production were remarkably high. The approach taken by director Susan Chaundy was essentially traditional and straightforward, though an unusual twist was to highlight the opposition within Brabant between an established pagan Norse-based religion (to which Ortrud adheres) and Christianity (of which Lohengrin is akin to a prophet). As she explained in a program note, Chaundy sought to do this by incorporating a large overhanging branch of the tree known as Ygdrassil in old Norse myths into the set for Acts One and Three and setting Act Two in a Christian cathedral. Since in Lohengrin the only overt references to Norse mythology are brief mentions of the gods Wotan and Freya during Act Two, this would appear to be drawing a long bow. But the sets and accompanying video projections were both striking in appearance and visually pleasing.

The principals were uniformly first-rate. As Lohengrin, Romanian tenor Marius Vlad maintained a clear, if at times slightly muted, tone and provided a characterisation that consistently emphasised the dignity and integrity of the Grail knight. As Elsa, the Australian soprano Helena Dix radiated warmth in personality and vocal tone and in Act Three was most moving in her self-recriminations and lamentations for having asked the forbidden questions. A second Australian principal, Sarah Sweeting, sang Ortrud with great intensity and menace, but moved somewhat awkwardly. Much the same could be said of the performance of Icelandic baritone Hrolfur Saemundsson as Telramund. Australian bass Eddie Muliaumaseali’i was a wonderfully dignified and sonorous King Heinrich.

The Melbourne Opera Chorus, whose members are (I gather) unpaid, sang impressively and moved very well, except that occasionally the children amongst them had to be reminded by their elders as to where exactly on the stage they should be standing. The orchestra, conducted by David Kram, played very well. The trumpeters’ heraldic calls were particularly impressive because they emanated from boxes high up on either side of the front stalls. As it happened, our seats were well forward in the front stalls, so the stereo effect was definitely not lost upon us. All in all, Colleen and I greatly enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with Lohengrin, wonderful opera that it is, after an excessively long period of time during which, as far as we know, it has not been staged in Australia.