Michael König, Simone Schneider, Martin Gantner, Okka Von Der Damerau; Stuttgart Opera Choir & Orchestra/Cornelius Meister; dir. Arpad Schilling (Stuttgart, 2019)
Bel Air Classiques BAC175 & BAC475 223 mins (2 discs / DVD & Blu-ray)
From Stuttgart comes this visually sparse production of Wagner’s romantic opera, directed by Hungarian Árpád Schilling. It’s a modern dress staging, with the characters in ordinary clothes, the chorus initially, perhaps, factory workers; in his smart suit Goran Jurić’s sturdy King Heinrich looks like a CEO.
The arrival of Michael König’s powerful yet lyrical Lohengrin – he’s apparently unwillingly hurled onto the stage, and immediately tries to flee – shows him every bit as workaday as the members of the chorus. There’s no boat, nor a swan – except for a cuddly toy which the knight presents to Elsa: later on there are many more of these. Such a crucial moment as Lohengrin’s fight with Martin Gantner’s edgy and again substantial Telramund is pretty much a non-event: neither of them moves until some chorus members shove Lohengrin forwards and he slaps his opponent, who falls over. Yet however spartan the visuals, in many ways its sheer starkness enables it to hint at the central mysteries of the piece.
Where the production triumphs is on the musical side, with each of the principals fully up to the substantial vocal demands of his or her role, as well as clearly committed to Schillings’s vision. Simone Schneider is an exceptional Elsa, her interpretation matched by the blowsy glamour of Okka von der Damerau’s Ortrud.
The chorus delivers strong tone and consistent engagement. From the silky strings of the Act I prelude onwards, the orchestra is never less than distinguished. Stuttgart’s music director Cornelius Meister exerts a quiet authority over proceedings.
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