[Met Performance] CID:330531
Lohengrin {601} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/17/1998.

(Debut: Eva Urbanová
Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
March 17, 1998


LOHENGRIN {601}
Wagner-Wagner

Lohengrin...............Ben Heppner
Elsa....................Deborah Voigt
Ortrud..................Deborah Polaski, Act I
Ortrud..................Eva Urbanová, Act II, III [Debut]
Telramund...............Richard Paul Fink
King Heinrich...........Eric Halfvarson
Herald..................Eike Wilm Schulte
Gottfried...............Sebastian Uriarte
Noble...................Thomas Studebaker
Noble...................Matthew Polenzani
Noble...................Gary Martin
Noble...................Richard Vernon
Page....................Nicholas Frisch

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

Production..............Robert Wilson
Set designer............Robert Wilson
Lighting Concept........Robert Wilson
Costume designer........Frida Parmeggiani
Lighting designer.......Heinrich Brunke

Review of Martin Mayer in Opera (UK)

Wagner's operas are all fairy-tales, one way or another, and you don't have to be a deconstructionist to know that the content of fairy-tales is what you can pour into them. In Wagner's time, illustrators made fairy-tales detailed and dishonestly realistic. Later generations tilled them with political or sexual significance. The painter-producer Robert Wilson has now taken "Lohengrin," the most simpleminded of Wagner's tales - the goody two shoes and her knight, the wicked witch and her entrapped warrior family - and, by unashamedly stripping to the nub of the matter each character and each situation, he has made magic of what had always seemed to me a clumsy, even silly, and very long piece of compositional self-indulgence. And in the stuffy venue of the Metropolitan Opera, too.

The curtain is up when the audience arrives, facing a brilliantly lit white canvas drop with a blue swan's wing off-centre high and left. The drop rises to reveal a modestly raked black stage backlit by simple light sculptures. The army of Brabant (almost 80 strong) stands at the back in helmets and gowns that reach from shoulder to floor. Every once in a while, in response to some revelation before them, they shudder forward or back. And they sing of course - this being the Met chorus - like angels. In the first act, the King has the skeleton of an elevated podium on which he stands, the uncomprehending but honest ruler of all, Eric Halfvarson's bass underpinning the story.

Ortrud is on stage throughout the first act, dressed in evil red, startlingly white hands with elongated fingers gesturing to control the parties to her contract. Deborah Polaski was authentically scary on March 17. Telramund is head-to-toe in black with Japanese-style facial adornments, moving with rigid, inhuman control; both visually and vocally, Richard Paul Fink, identified as a Canadian baritone born in Ohio, made a hugely impressive debut. Deborah Voigt as Elsa, all baby blue, moves very, very, very slowly across the stage, hands held just so; she is here to sing, which she does, very beautifully; but her character has no inner strength, anyway, as she will demonstrate in Act 3. Then Ben Heppner's Lohengrin, a dark earthy grey, heavy, in touch with the ground like a Tai Chi master, enters with the swan's wing, and the loveliest Wagner tenor voice of our time easily produces its sweet tones, the "parfit" knight on loan from Monsalvat.

There are no sets. In the second act a low platform with a stylized chair at its end separates Elsa inside from Ortrud outside. Wide bars of light rise and fall, or move across the stage, all horizontal except for a priapic vertical bulge in what would be the bedroom scene if we had a bed. In the final scene, Telramund's bier is brought before the King, but nothing is on it but the pile of his black clothes: the sorcery is finished. I am not a softie, and I have never been much of a Wilson fan, but in the unfolding of this well-known and, in my case, not-much-loved opera I found a Truth. Great credits also, of course, to Heinrich Brunke, Wilson's lighting designer, and to Frida Parmeggiani as his costumier. James Levine enjoyed himself greatly in the pit. One should also note the excellent dark-voiced Herald, Eike Wilm Schulte. Polaski became dizzy during the first act and her cover Eva Urbanova made her Met debut in the second act. Not surprisingly under the circumstances, she did not have Polaski's stage fire or total control, but she sang with an emotional charge that helped the presentation. The production returns next year, with Karita Mattila.



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