Posts Tagged ‘Petra Lang’

Rusalka, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2012

28 February, 2012

Can a force of nature acquire a soul? This is what Rusalka wants, to become human. As she says to the water spirit Vodník, humans have souls and go to heaven when they die. But souls are full of sin, says Vodník, …  and of love she responds. She has seen her prince and wants him to love her.

Dvořak’s opera Rusalka pits the powers of nature, particularly water, against human feelings and emotions. Like Ashton’s ballet Ondine it is loosely based on Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s fairy tale Undine that tells of a water nymph who falls in love with a prince. After acquiring human form, she loses her ability to speak, and at their wedding spurns his advances, feeling unable to compete with the fatal attraction of the articulate foreign princess. She abandons her prince, and though he searches for her and they are briefly reunited, his fate is sealed by his own unfaithfulness, and he dies in her arms.

Camilla Nylund made a lovely Rusalka, and Alan Held a very powerful Vodník. Both these performers sang the same roles in the original version of this production at Salzburg in 2008, and here at Covent Garden they enjoyed huge support from the other cast members. Bryan Hymel’s gloriously melodious voice was perfect for the Prince, and Petra Lang was superb as the foreign princess. Her body language is wonderfully expressive, and this singer who has made such a marvellous Ortrud in Lohengrin at both Covent Garden and Bayreuth, is perfectly suited to the role of a princess who feels not love but anger, determined that if she can’t have the prince then he shall be denied happiness. Compared to the princess he’s a weak man and instead of happiness he finds death as he begs Rusalka to kiss him at the end.

The power that allows this water nymph to turn into a human is the witch Ježibaba, strongly sung by Agnes Zwierko, and the singing of the three wood nymphs was beautiful, Madeleine Pierard in particular. Underlying it all was the conducting of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who imbued the music with huge emotional intensity at just the right moments. This was a terrific performance, and the singers were loudly cheered at the end, though the production team was roundly booed.

A bizarre production, photo Clive Barda

The production itself was brightly kitsch in parts, and like many other productions imported from the Germanic world, it presumably had a Konzept — in this case perhaps a brothel with Ježibaba as the madame, carefully checking the banknotes at one moment — but what’s the point? The ethereal nature of Rusalka and the watery forces of nature are better viewed without such a concrete representation. They inhabit a dark and mysterious world, yet the lighting at some points in Act III was extremely bright in a way that might work in Cosi fan tutte, but not in Rusalka.

This is a Czech opera — the very word of the title means water nymph in Czech — and does not fit easily with this Germanic-Italian production by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito. The theme of nature here is very much a Slavic one, and the term rus has an ancient Indo-European origin, meaning dew or humidity.

Do look beyond the superficialities of the production to the deeper meaning of the opera and don’t leave at the interval as several people did, because the performance is superb.

Performances continue until March 14 — for details click here.

Lohengrin, Bayreuth Festival, July 2011

28 July, 2011

The people of Brabant as rats, Elsa in white, wounded with arrows in her back, and Lohengrin during the overture trying to get through white double doors. In 2010 this was the new production that opened the festival — it apparently got a mixed reception, but seeing it for the first time this year I liked it! And so presumably did Angela Merkel who returned as a private citizen to see it again, sitting in the first few rows rather than the main box at the back.

The Wedding, all photos Bayreuther Festspiele/Enrico Nawrath

The video projections of rats fighting and metaphorically trying to take over the kingdom were clever, and I loved the opening of Act II with a dead horse and overturned carriage. Telramund and Ortud were evidently trying to abscond with boxes of gold bars that the rats quickly made off with. They have failed in their attempt to take over the kingdom, and the wrecked carriage is representative of their wrecked plans.

Elsa, with Ortrud, Telramund and Lohengrin

As for Lohengrin himself, Wagner writes in his Mitteilung an meine Freunde (Communication to my friends) that the hero is looking for a woman who “ihn unbedingt liebe” (loves him unconditionally). He longs for the one person who can release him from his solitude, quench his yearning — for love, for being loved, for being understood through love (original German “ihn aus seiner Einsamkeit erlösen, seine Sehnsucht stillen konnte — nach Liebe, nach Geliebtsein, nach Verstandensein durch die Liebe“). He fails of course because Elsa cannot resist demanding the name he can’t reveal without returning immediately to the land of the Grail. When the swan comes back for him, it turns into Elsa’s lost younger brother whom Ortrud bewitched and accused her of murdering, and in this production the brother is an embryo held inside an egg-like container. He rises onto his legs, tears his umbilical cord, and stands there like some far eastern holy man. Lohengrin walked slowly to the front of the stage, the lights went out, and the applause erupted.

Elsa and Ortrud

Klaus Florian Vogt was an immensely strong and charismatic Lohengrin, assertive against others, yet showing quieter tender moments to the beautiful Elsa of Annette Dasch. Tómas Tómasson sang strongly as Telramund, and Petra Lang was a powerful presence as Ortrud, singing with huge force when the occasion demanded it. Samuel Youn was in good voice and whacky costume as the Herald, and Georg Zeppenfeld showed suitable weakness as King Henry, but sang with firmness, particularly in Act I when he refers to the sword giving a judgement between Trug und Wahreheit (fraud and truth).

The final tableau

Andris Nelsons conducted with energy and what seemed a faster than usual tempo, though I’ve no objection to that since I find this opera can tend to drag despite the beautiful music. In any event, Hans Neuenfels’ production, with costume and stage designs by Reinhard von der Thannen, gives a forward movement to developments and lightens things with a strong splash of colour. I loved the pink mice, and the hugely colourful lady rats at the wedding ceremony. As the mice came on, followed by the ladies I half expected the orchestra to burst into ballet music for Nutcracker or La fille mal gardée, to say nothing of the allusion to Swan Lake with Elsa and Ortrud in their feathered dresses of white and black.

In the end what stands out is: an intriguing production, fine performances from the whole cast, and that wonderful stage moment with the broken carriage and dead horse at the start of Act II. Super.

Lohengrin, Royal Opera, April 2009

27 April, 2009

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This excellent production by Elijah Moshinsky uses a bare stage with gloriously elaborate movable designs and wonderful costumes by John Napier, subtly lit by Oliver Fenwick. It has deservedly been in the opera house repertoire since 1977 — longer than almost any other production — and the present revival was conducted with great clarity by Semyon Bychkov, amply showing the light and shade of Wagner’s music.

As to the singers, Johan Botha’s Heldentenor voice gave us a superbly sung Lohengrin, and his stage presence showed gravitas but little charisma. Edith Haller was a beautifully voiced Elsa, though she struggled in the final act towards the end of a long evening — this was an uncut version of the opera. They were both very well complemented by the wonderful singing of Petra Lang as the evil Ortrud, Gerd Grochowski (replacing Falk Struckmann) as the fatally weak Telramund, and Kwangchul Youn as King Henry. Both Petra Lang and Gerd Grochowski inhabited their roles in a particularly convincing way, not only while singing but also in their silences.

Of Wagner’s ten operas in the standard repertoire I think of this as my least favourite, but the combination of an excellent production by Elijah Moshinsky, fine conducting from Semyon Bychkov, and terrific singing from the principals and the chorus made this the best Lohengrin I remember seeing.