Top critical review
Das Liebesverbot - Madrid 2016
6 February 2017
This is apparently the first ever DVD/blu-ray release of Wagner’s second opera. At the time of writing there is still no filmed version of his first opera – Die Feen (apart from a children’s adaptation) – and only two of Rienzi. No-one’s going to pretend that these early operas are on the same exalted level as his later works, but I definitely think that they deserve to be better known than they are, so on that basis, this release is very welcome.
Das Liebesverbot was Wagner’s first attempt at a “comedy” – with a libretto based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. It’s lighthearted (as Wagner goes), and the characters all get to live happily ever after, but don’t expect a lot of laughs.
Kasper Holten’s production updates the action to the present day. The costumes are a strange mixture of carnivalesque outfits for the populace and British bobby-style uniforms for the forces of law-and-order. Apart from the updating, the action proceeds pretty much as Wagner intended, and the whole thing is attractive and relatively easy to follow - once you’ve worked out who all the characters are and what their relationship is to each other! This being 2016, much of the communication between characters takes place by mobile phone or text. So, for example, where Isabella visits her brother Claudio in prison, here they are standing in different parts of the stage, each holding a mobile phone to their ear. It sounds dreadful, but I actually thought it worked quite well. Where characters are texting, an image of the text is projected on to panels at the side of the stage, but the Video Director chooses not to show these properly. If he had though, from what I could make out, it would beg the question as to why a group of Sicilians who sing to each other in German would choose to text each other in Spanish!
Unfortunately, the singing cast is not really good enough to show this opera in its best light. Christopher Maltman is excellent as Friedrich and Ante Jerkunica and Maria Hinojosa are very good as Brighella and Dorella, but the rest of the cast are really not up to the standards that I would expect from a major house – the biggest disappointment being Manuela Uhl as Isabella who, according to the box cover, is currently Germany’s hottest Wagnerian leading lady!
The pictures are very good and the sound is not bad, although the balance favours the orchestra rather than the voices, which is not ideal. Technical details: LPCM 2.0ch 48kHz/24-bit and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1ch 48kHz.
This is a very welcome addition to the catalogue, but there is definitely still room for a version with better singing. Incidentally the production here presented is a co-production with the Royal Opera House, and I believe it will be seen at Covent Garden in 2018 – hopefully with a better cast.