Now, contrary to what some readers might think, writing a bad review on a new Wagner opera set is not something that this writer particularly enjoys doing. On the contrary, I was very excited when the Janowski-RSB cycle was announced - and really looking forward to every issue through 2011, 2012 and 2013 - it felt a little bit like watching a Flash Gordon serial in the 1930s and being impressed by the nail-biting cliffhanger at the end of every episode. Alas.... After a good "Fliegende Holländer", a truly magic "Parsifal" but a completely unnecessary "Meistersinger", this Lohengrin confirms the current limitations of recording "soundtrack-only" Wagner operas. Because the voices are in short supply and because a lot of careers now seem to be built on short term celebrity (one cryingly obvious example here), directors have to be even more imaginative (in the best or worst sense of the word) to draw attention to a performance that would have have otherwise lost the audience's interest after twenty minutes.
Let's stop beating around the bush: the Act I of this Lohengrin is disastrous. The way the strings emerge from the orchestra in the first bars is truly magical but after that I didn't particularly find the orchestra extremely focused or extremely involved for that matter. Janowski, much more inspired by father than by son, goes through the motions without a lot of belief. Markus Brück is an indifferent Herald, Günther Groissböck a nice-to-hear King Heinrich but with some top notes problems. As for Annette Dasch, she is the one cast member who made me very angry. Could someone managing the interests of this lovely singer (beautiful Aminta in a performance of Il Re Pastore that enraptured me in the DVD of this opera at Salzburg in the M22 collection) tell her that she should never have been advised to sing Elsa? the instrument is tenuous - of course the notes are there but they are pushed, prepared a bit too much and forced upon an instrument that wasn't meant to sing them. The second aria finds Frau Dasch on the verge of breaking point. I am really concerned about what will happen to this lovely voice in the future - but then I guess, who cares about singers' health nowadays?
When Klaus Florian Vogt started with his "Nun sei bedannkt", I was very moved, He sounded saintly, taped in this Berlin Philharmonic Hall halo and sounding more religious than the Pope, but again the instrument is way too small for the part and this gets a bit embarrassing very early on. No such concern for Susanne Resmark, going like a canon on every note of Ortrud, sometimes off pitch. As for Grochowski as Telramund, he shouldn't worry too much: only Schorr and Fischer-Dieskau have been able to sing Telramund properly over the last 76 years.
After Act I, Janowski must have gone to the changing room and tell his forces to start playing music properly since they were 0:3 at half-time. There is undoubtedly progress in terms of commitment and intepretative intensity in Acts II and III (which saves this recording for just being a "2-star" rating) but this Lohengrin should never have been released. I am now totally panicky about this Pentatone cycle since what is left to be released are the most difficult operas to cast: Tristan, Tannhäuser and the Ring.
Neddless to say after this ordeal, I needed a glass of whisky, which I drank listening to my Kempe recording. I know that there must be something wrong about me...but is it only me?