I found this Bayreuth production so outrageous, indeed disgusting, that it’s hard to know in what terms to review it. If the recording of the live performance had been on CD, I would have been mainly enthusiastic. Andris Nelsons is the most promising Wagner conductor I have heard for a long time, and his account of this glowing, radiant score is broad. The singing is good, too, with a lovely Elsa from Annette Dasch, and a Lohengrin who has magnificent moments, even if he can sound like a strangulated English tenor. Klaus Florian Vogt is sometimes compared to a choirboy, and he does indulge in ethereality. That suits quite a lot of this role, and when he needs to produce something approaching heroic tone he can. Petra Lang is a villainess, with an enormous and not always reliable voice; her companion, the influenceable Telramund, is the rich-voiced Jukka Rasilainen. And whatever else is wrong, the chorus is superb.
In an interview Hans Neuenfels, the director, says he wants Lohengrin to be funny, witty, light. To that end we see, during the heavenly prelude, a rat race, ever-increasing numbers of rodents dashing across a screen – they’re animated images. But the chorus are black rats in Act I, and at their least rodent-like the females still sport long tails hanging out of their satin dresses. At the end, the boy Gottfried emerges from an egg, and is the most repulsive thing I have seen on a stage: a man-sized embryo, veiny and still blood-smeared, who tugs at his umbilical cord and throws bits of it to the rats. Elsa is a swan – we are told that because she loves a man who should arrive on one, she becomes one. And so on.