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A Kékszákallú herceg váraThe man1
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In April, Berlin turned into a mini-Bayreuth with high-gloss productions of Tannhäuser and Parsifal at the Staatsoper. The Deutsche Oper got in on the Wagner action late in the month with a powerful revival of Lohengrin (seen April 25). Kasper Holten’s production remains as undirected and uninspired as at its 2012 premiere, but this was quite easy to overlook, since one would have been hard pressed to find a better Lohengrin cast anywhere. The luxury of seeing and hearing Klaus Florian Vogt, Anja Harteros and Waltraud Meier together on the same stage — Germany’s second largest for opera after the Nationaltheater in Munich — ensured that both of this season’s performances, of which this was the latter, sold out months in advance. With so many great reasons to see this Lohengrin, the best was Harteros’s impassioned and noble Elsa. The great German soprano — a former ensemble member here — sang with aristocratic bearing and refinement. Her understanding of the role was subtlety communicated in every utterance: from her otherworldly delivery of the Act I “dream” (“Einsam in trüben Tagen”) to the wild paranoia of the wedding night. Her every note was bewitching. Earlier this season, when she appeared at the house as Tosca, it was the single best account of that role I’ve ever seen live. Watching her go from strength to strength, I’m increasingly certain that Harteros is the closest thing the current age has to a Callas. Berlin eagerly awaits her Marschallin next season. Klaus Florian Vogt, whose first Berlin appearance as Lohengrin at the Staatsoper in 2009 was loudly booed, has in the meantime won the city’s operagoers over. He was part of the premiere cast of this production and has since been made dazzling appearances at the house as Parsifal and, somewhat less successfully, as Faust in Berlioz’s dramatic oratorio La Damnation de Faust last season. His voice floats and soars effortlessly in an utterly unique and mesmerizing way, with its impossibly soft and buoyant timbre. Which makes it all the more exciting when he judiciously injects Heldentenor heft and severity into the role. This tenor may sound like a pussycat, but is angry — very, very angry — when provoked. In the scene-chewing role of Ortrud, Watraud Meier was a woman possessed. Much like her Isolde several months back at the Staatsoper, the remarkable intelligence she brought to every syllable of her text and phrase of her music overcame the technical limitations of her aging voice. Occasionally a high note rang out shrill or sounded hollow, but she was so convincing in innate musicality and dramatic forward-thrust that it hardly mattered. She was awarded with one of the evening’s loudest ovations from the standing audience. One could imagine a more resonant or textured baritone than John Lundgren, the evening’s Telramund, but one would be hard pressed to find one more expressive or with a darker, softer glow. In his interpretation, Telramund was very much a hapless victim of Ortrud’s venomous lies. And I was consistently wowed by the Heinrich of Günther Groissböck, a Bayreuth veteran who made a role that often comes across as merely stentorian engaged and compelling. This is a part that suits the Austrian bass far more than Baron Ochs, which he currently sings at Salzburg. As the Herald, Bastiaan Everink made a mostly favorably impression, although he did seem a bit underpowered next to the king. The very same week, the Deutsche Oper’s sensational general music director Donald Runnicles was leading performances of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette and Don Carlo, but it was Lohengrin that he put his heart into most. The brilliant orchestra —which consistently excels at Wagner — performed with characteristic robustness, precision and flair. The overture was an incredible slow burn, building from an impossibly thin and delicate string opening to crashing, wave-like crescendos. Runnicles’ pacing and sense of dramatic suspense was flawless throughout and the massive horn section — scattered around the opera house — came through beautifully for the prelude to the final scene. The whole ensemble was bolstered by the noble singing of the DOB’s choir — here joined by the company’s “extra-choir” — who did heroic and incisive work over the course of the long evening. spacer
BERLIN—On any given night during the Cold War, West Berlin's Deutsche Oper could lay claim to being Germany's best opera company. It still boasts Berlin's largest opera house—a mammoth functionalist wonder, opened within weeks of the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961—but it has lost ground in the past decade to its two competitors in the former East, the Komische Oper and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden. Now, the Deutsche Oper is heading toward a new high note, with Sunday's première of Wagner's "Lohengrin" serving as proof that the company's constituent parts can blend into an impressive whole.
J. S. Marcus


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