[Met Performance] CID:247260
New Production
Lohengrin {552} Metropolitan Opera House: 11/4/1976.

(Debut: René Kollo

Metropolitan Opera House
November 4, 1976
Benefit sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
for the production funds
New Production


Lohengrin...............René Kollo [Debut]
Elsa....................Pilar Lorengar
Ortrud..................Mignon Dunn
Telramund...............Donald McIntyre
King Heinrich...........Bonaldo Giaiotti
Herald..................Allan Monk
Gottfried...............Rex James
Noble...................Robert Goodloe
Noble...................Andrea Velis
Noble...................Philip Booth
Noble...................Charles Anthony

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............August Everding
Set designer............Ming Cho Lee
Costume designer........Peter J. Hall

Lohengrin received seventeen performances this season.

Production a gift of the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Samuel L. Tedlow,
and Mercedes-Benz of North America, Inc.

Review of Bill Zakariasen in the New York Daily News

When the curtains parted on the last scene of the Met Opera's new production of Wagner's "Lohengrin" Thursday night, my companion gasped, "My God! It's the finale of "Oklahoma!"

But soon the sea of grass was invaded by the German Army, and things looked pretty much as they did at the [beginning] of Act I. Here we were again on the boggy banks of the Scheldt - designer Ming Cho Lee has done his geographical homework.

One halfway expected the swan-knight Lohengrin to sink into quicksand at the end, and he apparently did. But he also reversed the process at his entrance. Both times, however, the appearance of his fine feathered friend has to be taken on faith.

Ming's sets and August Everding's staging are a curious dichotomy of the real and unreal, a compromise that is reasonably attractive but doesn't always work. In a sense, the Wieland Wagner production of a decade ago, for all its uncomfortability (I remember, I was in the chorus), made more sense, being all of a piece - a series of static stained-glass windows mirroring the impossible religious wonderment of the story.

In general, the new staging is smoothly sensible within the confines of its nondirectionality, though a few movements (like Ortrud, after being cursed by Lohengrin, again picking up Elsa's bridal train as if nothing had happened) make one wonder if Everding paid close attention to the text.

The sets are functional, and mightily impressive in the second act church scene. The lighting is average 1970s energy crisis, but bright enough to expose the fact that the chorus, unlike the soloists, wasn't wearing makeup.

The musical performance was far more consistent than the visual spectacle. Most strikingly, the good guys had the lyrical voice and the bad ones the dramatic. This was mirrored in James Levine's conducting, which was at all times transparent and never overbearing, for all its long line and mighty scale. It was by far the new Met music director's finest hour.

The handsome debuting Lohengrin, Rene Kollo, is well-known from recordings, some of which frankly he never should have made. But here his lyrical operetta tenor was used (aside from a tendency to scoop) with clear, unforced control. He is no Melchior, but his lighter approach was accomplished with nobility and charm. On his own terms, he was an unqualified success.

Pilar Lorengar was a radiant Elsa. Bonaldo Giaiotti a sternly sympathetic King Henry of rolling, easy tone, and Allan Monk sang the crucial lines of the Herald with stirring confidence.

Donald McIntyre and Mignon Dunn were a Telramund and Ortrud of the old cannonball school, tremendously commanding in their respective villainies. Both singers would do credit to any golden age of Wagner performance. The chorus provides some celestial vocalism (and dead-center pitch) in pianissimo passages, though they sounded at times blandly undernourished in forte ones.

Outside of one chunk in Act III that Wagner himself sanctioned to be cut, the performance was complete, beginning at 7:30 and ending on the stroke of midnight. Over the four-and-a-half hours there may have been puzzlements to be seen, but what we heard was the best the Met can offer, which is in turn the best one is likely to hear in any opera house today.

Review of Leighton Kerner in the Village Voice of November 22, 1976

It seems to hold truer for Wagnerian opera than for almost any other kind of theatre that yesterday's innovation is today's cliché. As with all kinds of theatre, a certain retrenchment in production style is called for in every generation; in order to set out on a new path, you sometimes have to go back to the crossroads. And that's what the Metropolitan Opera has done in its new production of Wagner's "Lohengrin."

Over the 156 years of so since Wagner's operas began making their various impression on the work, their theatrical images have been affected by the reigning fashions of the time. Canvas scenery painted in full detail gave way to the stark structures of light and shadow associated with Gordon Craig and Adolph Appia, which in turn were hauled off to make way for attempts in the 1940s to effect a compromise between realism and suggestion. The Met's 1947 "Ring." In which the designer, Lee Simonson, showed Valhalla as a high-rise apartment house and honed the Valkyries' rock to razor sharpness, was typical and not bad of its type. Then Bayreuth reopened in 1951 for the first post World War II festival, and Wieland Wagner, one of the composer's grandsons, shook up the operatic world with a style of stage direction in which movement was kept at a most meaningful minimum and in which light was the principal scenic element.

The Met's previous "Lohengrin" presented in 1966, had been designed by Wieland Wagner, whose death prevented him from directing it as well. That production, which had been seen in other cities in somewhat varied form, was severely beautiful in its stained-glass way. But without Wieland Wagner himself on the rehearsal scene to transform his tinted pictures of saints and villains into recognizable human beings, as he is known to have done in his Bayreuth work, the Met's 1966 "Lohengrin" could only forecast the end of an innovative era. More recent Wagnerian opera innovations became clichés still faster, even with the innovators still alive and kicking. Science-fiction "Ring,"s with space-ship Valhallas and gods as bug-eyed monsters, are on their way out. So, it seems, as the idea of setting Wagnerian legends into the industrial-revolution era that nourished both the composer's art and his politics. (The centennial "Ring" that scandalized Bayreuth this summer and is scheduled to scandalize it further during the next two summers is obviously something else, a now-or-never attempt to consolidate every kind of theatrical thinking about that stupendous tetralogy since it first appeared.)

The present Met "Lohengrin" is part of a plan to reconsider the three romances that preceded "Tristan und Isolde," that super romance with which Wagner not only changed the grammar of composition, but also, according to Francis Fergusson, brought a new perspective into the mirror which drama holds up to nature. "Lohengrin," like its two romantic predecessors, "Der Fliegende Holländer" and "Tannhäuser," added no such perspective and created no such artistic upheaval. It is a musically foursquare but exciting and melodious opera with a straightforward story. Lohengrin, a knight of the Grail, defeats Telramund and Ortrud, the enemies of Elsa, and becomes her husband and co-ruler of the medieval dukedom of Brabant on the condition that she never ask who he is and where he came from. Ortrud plays on Elsa's fear that the godlike hero might some day leave her and return to his paradise, and the tragic ending is ordained.

The new production's director, August Everding, has spelled out as a dramatic theme the imperfect world's inability to accept without question a perfection visited on it, and he has cited the prelude to the first act as musicalization of that idea; the motif of the Grail begins high and soft, descends gradually, reaches its lowest register at the texturally richest (almost full-bodied, most earthly) measures, and then gradually rises again into the ether of soft, high harmonies.

Just as Everding's description of the prelude is a short, less-clustered version of Wagner's own, so his direction is a retrenchment to the realism of Wagner's day, but with the sensibility of a modern theatre man out to communicate directly to a modern audience. The scenery by Ming Cho Lee and the lighting by Gilbert Hemsley complement this brand of realism. For instance, when Wagner asks for a swan to draw Lohengrin's boat to the river bank where Elsa awaits rescue, we are given no paper-mache swan or a rear-wall projection, as in the past. Instead, the front scrim is hit with a great spill of dazzling light, through which Lohengrin ascends from a hidden trap door, and the illusion works perfectly. The general lighting, unlike the grim fogs that have infested so much Wagner this past quarter-century, almost goes overboard in its Technicolor brilliance, particularly in the wedding procession but that can easily be toned down.

Mr. Lee has tackled his scenic problems with obvious enthusiasm, The downstage castle wall that points up the temporary bliss of Elsa and the faked subservience of Ortrud looks like one of Robert Wilson's more extravagant flights of fancy; it's probably foam rubber, but it resembles solid blocks of stone, and it fills the full dimensions of the Met's proscenium [space]. And when the dawn fanfares begin, the wall parts to reveal a slow convergence of other walls, stairways, and cathedral pillars for the climax of the second act.

Mr. Everding has underlined the romantic reality of his characters constantly. When Elsa and Lohengrin first meet, it's not her fear or his otherworldliness that hits you, but their sudden mutual love. And when she begins to ask him the forbidden questions, and he realizes he can't stop her, he doesn't strike your usual Lohengrin's statuesque pose of resignation but puts his hand over her mouth, knowing all the while that it will do no good; the decisive gesture of resignation here is his gently taking the wedding ring from her finger.

Musically, matters are on almost as high a level, at least they were on the November 4 [first] night. James Levine conducted his large orchestral and choral forces towards a homogeneous blend altogether suitable for this kind of music. If the volume of the biggest moments fell short of my expectations, it may have been because my press seat was stuck under the rear orchestra overhang. But the individual voices lacked nothing in presence. In his Met debut, Rene Kollo sang the title role in a clear tenor timbre that sounded unusually youthful for Wagnerian opera and was almost entirely free of the technical weaknesses that nearly destroyed his performance of the same role with the Berlin Opera in Washington last year. And his acting was a model mixture of economy and ardor. Pilar Lorengar's glowingly lyric singing of Elsa, Mignon Dunn's vocally fiery, of overacted, Ortrud, Donald McIntyre's heroically sung and subtly acted Telramund, and Allan Monk's sonorous herald were important assets. But Bonaldo Giaiotti, he of the clammy bass sound and nondescript attitude toward the drama around him, was far from every inch the King Henry, although I must admit I admired the way he whacked the Shield of Judgment.

Perhaps he realized, as did most of us, that the judgment on this new page of Wagnerian history at the Met is not merely an acquittal, but a salute.

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