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on 24 July 2012
The kontroversial Hans Neuenfels created an equally controversial mis-en-scéne of Wagners early opera, Lohengrin, in Bayreuth a few years ago, which has now become available on DVD in a masterful rendition with the rising German tenor, Klaus Florian Vogt, in the title role and Annette Dasch as his unhappy wife who cannot bear not to know the name of her beloved and by insisting on knowing it, precipitates his premature departure on his swan.
Musically, the opera is perhaps the most accesible of Wagner's operas and the orchestra here excels in presenting the beautiful score in all its splendour under the direction of the young conductor, Andris Nelsons. Vogt as the protagonist is outstanding, his voice and looks seem born to the role and may remind the listener of the prematurely deceased Fritz Wunderlich. Dasch is glorious as Elsa and the whole cast is in top form. You may have to accustom yourself to the foibles of Hans Neuenfels with rats being the courtiers and Elsa's lost brother literally being reborn out of the swan's huge egg, but once you have accepted this, your enjoyment and pleasure will be unadulterated. Highly recommended.Bought at Amazon.uk
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Lohengrin has always been one of the most difficult Wagner operas to approach, partly because of where it stands in the development of the composer finding his own voice and partly because of the history that has become attached to it through its association with Nazism. Hans Neuenfels' idea then isn't in itself necessarily a bad one. He correctly sees that there is much more to Lohengrin than solemn declarations of Germanic might and purity, but that there is a wider consideration and a deep understanding in Lohengrin of the flaws and weaknesses in the German character also. In some respects then for Neuenfels, Lohengrin represents a kind of social experiment where these conflicting German characteristics are examined under laboratory conditions.

The difficulty with the idea of the opera as a social experiment however is that its reductio ad absurdum turns Brabant literally into a laboratory where its citizens run around for the most part dressed in black, white and pink mouse costumes. It all looks very silly indeed and definitely not how you expect to see Wagner traditionally produced. But then again it's clearly the intention of the director to totally break down those preconceptions and the historical baggage that comes with the opera. At the very least you can safely say that there has never been a Lohengrin like this one. The staging is colourful and well-choreographed, while the modernist, clean-line, brightly lit stage that is now a distinctive feature of Bayreuth in recent years is far from the dark theatricality that you normally associate with opera productions. Using animated sequences moreover, the production takes a Rashomon-like perspective on the nature of Truth (Wahrheit) in relation to the alleged drowning of Gottfried, the heir to the throne of Brabant, by his sister Elsa, and highlights the changing reaction of the people (the rats), to the unfolding of these events at a time when King Heinrich "The Fowler" is gathering forces to fight against Hungary, this is definitely an interesting angle to explore.

Rather than bringing out any underlying complexity in the work however, it seems to either just exaggerate the broad black-and-white characterisation in the most simplistic terms with blatant symbolism (swans on one side, rats on the other) and obvious colour-coding, or else smother it in obscure references and imagery when the fit isn't quite perfect. It hardly deals with the more problematic questions raised by the work and its historical legacy, and despite the attempt to draw out the type of humour from the work that you might find more readily in Die Meistersinger von Nürnburg, it doesn't seem to work particularly well with the musical language employed by Wagner either. It's more of a "commentary" on Lohengrin than a vision that makes a true meaningful connection with the work. Whether this failing to fully connect with the heart of the piece is a problem for the performers or not is hard to say, but although it's wonderfully played by the orchestra, Andris Nelsons at least seems to struggle to find a tone to match the uneven and bizarre antics on the stage.

The singing too - something unfortunately not always given due consideration at Bayreuth - is again not really strong enough here to make the idea work, although some singers manage better than others. Klaus Florian Vogt is simply made to play Lohengrin, singing it here - as he does in the Kent Nagano/Nikolaus Lehnhoff production already available on Blu-ray - with a beautiful lyrical purity of tone that seems wonderfully fitted to his character. Georg Zeppenfeld is also very impressive as King Henry, singing wonderfully with authority but also with an edge of character instability that works well with the concept here. Petra Lang alone gives the kind of powerful, commanding Wagnerian performance you would expect. She is absolutely stunning on those high passages - although not always as strong across the range - and she consequently cuts an appropriately fearsome figure as Ortrud. She seems to adapt better to the 'baddie' role than Jukka Rasilainen, who looks and sounds hopelessly out of place here as Telramund. Annette Dasch too clearly finds the singing and the interpretation something of a struggle - but Elsa is by no means an easy role and there are enough good points to admire in her performance here. The chorus work - notwithstanding its members having to wear rat costumes - is simply outstanding.

On Blu-ray in High Definition, the brightly lit and colourful stage looks most impressive, the cameras finding plenty of low and high angles to capture the whole scope of the stage direction without getting too carried away. The audio tracks, in PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 are exceptionally good, with the orchestra and singing well recorded and mixed. Instead of the usual bland Bayreuth Making Of feature, the extras principally consist of four five minute interviews with Katarina Wagner, Hans Neuenfels, Klaus Florian Vogt and Annette Dasch, but also include a Cast Gallery and the three animated Wahrheit sequences. The booklet contains an essay with further information and interpretation of the ideas in the production, and a full synopsis.
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on 22 September 2012
I was lucky enough to get tickets to see this production in Bayreuth this year, and I wanted something to remember it by.

I like to watch Mezzo TV, and often they use Arte films. Furthermore, it is possible to watch extracts on YouTube. So I knew what I was buying.

As always in Bayreuth, the music and the singing are absolutely superb, and the production is "interesting". In this production we have a hero (Jonas Kaufmann) and heroine (Annette Dasch) who are beautiful physically as well as in voice. I am not really sure that I know why the citizens of Brabant are dressed as rats, but they are very colourful rats. Indeed, the whole production is extremely colourful. Samuel Youn as the Heerrufer is outstanding and I can imagine that he would have excelled as the stand-in Hollaender this year. The end of the production - with the hatching of the swan's egg - is both shocking and fascinating.
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on 5 February 2013
When it comes to Wagner, the opera I know least of all is Lohengrin, and I am afraid that this production from the 2011 Bayreuth Festival leaves me even more bemused and even disappointed than before. The vision of the director, Hans Neuenfels, does nothing to illuminate the story, if anything it only served to confuse. The best I can say is that it is disappointing, and that's being generous!
This is a real shame as musically this production is superb; indeed it is difficult to find a weak link with all singers and orchestral players being on top form. Klaus Florian Vogt is strong in the title role, although he can sound a little stressed at times, while Georg Zeppenfeld is a powerful King Heinrich. Annette Dasch sings a beautiful Elsa while Petra Lang is at her best as Ortrude, indeed all the solo singers are excellent. The chorus is in wonderful voice, although I am still mystified why they have to sing in rat costumes. Andris Nelsons proves himself to be a very fine Wagner interpreter getting the very best out of his orchestra and all the singers.
A performance as good as this deserves a production better than this as I personally wouldn't want to watch this presentation again. Recent Bayreuth productions have received a lot of criticism and if this is anything to go by I can understand why, visually it is dreadful, so much so that you can only feel sorry for the performers. There is an interview in which Hans Neuenfels tries to explain his vision for the opera, but by the time I watched it I just found it misguided!
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on 3 July 2015
This is unspeakably awful. It's not just that the members of the chorus are (for most of the time) dressed up as rodents (rats, I think). And it's not just that scenes of cartoon rats keep obtruding upon the scene. It''s also that the two main characters are, well, "wet". Lohengrin has a far-away look constantly in his eyes and a silly grin on his face (until things turn unpleasant). Elsa is by turns a simpering ninny and a nervous wreck, and is intensely irritating throughout. Moreover, King Henry is portrayed as being so nervously cowardly as to verge on being deranged. It is all so silly and misjudged. A pity, because musically it isn't too bad. Still, after seeing it I had to watch another version to try and get this vile production out of my head.
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on 5 December 2013
I have always loved Wagner Operas since being a child.
The Blu-ray by Opus Art gives great joy a pleasure to watch indeed for any enthusiast of Wagner to enjoy.
I am overjoyed ful stop.
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