On the day after the composer’s 200th birthday, Welsh National Opera makes a major contribution to the anniversary in the shape of Antony McDonald’s self-designed new production of one of Wagner’s most popular pieces.
Peter Wedd in Lohengrin, Welsh National Opera, Millennium Centre, Cardiff Photo: Bill Cooper
McDonald’s costumes reference the time of the opera’s premiere (1850), while his multi-level sets place the action in a construction rather like a dilapidated Victorian lecture theatre. What impresses most is the coherence of the action in terms of both interacting individuals and the highly involved chorus; the show is clear in narrative as well as in its use of symbolism - the swan that finally transforms into Elsa’s lost brother is beautifully realised.
Musically, the evening is a feast for Wagner fans. Both orchestra and chorus are on exceptional form, while WNO music director Lothar Koenigs sustains momentum while maintaining the finest quality tone.
Emma Bell is on her mettle as Elsa, a role that proves ideal for her voice and personality. Peter Wedd never falters in his vocally dynamic, visually other worldly Lohengrin. Ortrud takes versatile mezzo Susan Bickley right up to her limits, though she remains authoritative. Claudio Otelli’s Telramund conveys the coward relying on his stronger wife’s determination to keep him going. Suffering from a throat infection, Matthew Best nevertheless struggles manfully onwards as King Henry.
Yet it’s not just the excellence of individual performances that makes the evening unforgettable but the way in which they coalesce into a superbly integrated piece of music drama. The result is certainly one of the operatic highlights of the year.