Wagner’s Das Liebesverbot directed by Kasper Holton

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner
WORKS: Das Liebesverbot
PERFORMER: Christopher Maltman, Peter Lodahl, Ilker Arcayürek, David Alegret, David Jerusalem, Manuela Uhl, María Miró, María Hinojosa; Coro y Orquesta Titulares del Teatro Real/Ivor Bolton; dir. Kasper Holton (Madrid, 2016)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: OA 1191D; Blu-ray: OABD 7231D

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After disastrous opening performances worthy of Noises Off, Wagner abandoned his first opera as a ‘youthful sin’. However, 20th-century revivals, notably Edward Downes’s famous BBC studio recording, and recent stagings, including this from Madrid’s Teatro Real, have confirmed that it’s by no means unenjoyable.

Fed up with Germanic stodginess and narrow-mindedness, Wagner shifted the location of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure from Vienna to sunlit, sensuous Sicily, ruled by a puritanical German governor, Friedrich, who declares all amorous license, including Carnival, a capital offence. Shakespeare’s rakish wit Lucio becomes the Sicilian leader, egging on the novice nun Isabella to expose Friedrich’s hypocrisy in condemning her brother. Wagner scored it with affectionate Italian pastiche, and considerable theatrical vigour, but that said, the work lacks any real musical unity, a ragbag of influences that swings from Weberish vocal lines to sudden eruptions of bouncing Donizetti.

It’s well if not exceptionally performed here, especially by the splendidly full-voiced chorus. Manuela Uhl makes a bright if rather mannered Isabella, and Peter Lodahl a robust Lucio. Friedrich somewhat anticipates Lohengrin’s Telramund; Christopher Maltman, short of tyrannical vocal power, plays him effectively as a prissy bureaucrat. Lesser roles see some of the best performances, such as Ilker Arcayürek’s Claudio and María Hinojosa’s Dorella. The staging, by Covent Garden’s Kasper Holten, is gaudy, largely conventional with the odd silly moment, and heavy-handed humour; he initially makes Palermo look more like the neon-lit Reeperbahn. Ivor Bolton conducts energetically but weightily. Altogether this will do as the only available video, but just to hear it, older sound recordings, notably the BBC’s (available on DG’s Wagner compendium) and Sawallisch’s Munich production with Hermann Prey, are better; and if Sebastian Weigle’s Frankfurt version appears on DVD as well as CD, it will challenge this.

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Michael Scott Rohan