The last new Royal Opera Lohengrin was in 1977, when Elijah Moshinsky’s finest staging for the company had its premiere; but following its last hurrah in 2009, David Alden – whose Olivier-Award-winning Semiramide was new earlier this season – was tasked with creating a replacement.
He and his team present the broken society of 10th-century Antwerp in terms of a forbidding, authoritarian 20th-century culture operating in massive but soulless buildings and with weapons always at the ready.
The arrival of Lohengrin – the original knight in shining armour – to rescue beleaguered Elsa from an accusation of fratricide doesn’t seem to change much, though perhaps there’s hope in the reappearance of her missing brother Gottfried (played by Michael Curtis) at the close.
Sombre but articulate and clear in narrative intent, Alden’s production is a well-crafted, visually striking piece of work that looks set to last.
Given the quality of at least some of the central performances, and the superior conducting of Andris Nelsons, who obtains playing and singing of considerable tonal distinction from the orchestra and expanded chorus, taken as a whole the result is a memorable realisation of Wagner’s enigmatic allegory.
Central to the evening’s success is a major step up for Irish soprano Jennifer Davis (covering for the announced Elsa, Kristine Opolais), who goes on to triumph with a performance notable for its security and fine-grained lyricism.
Equalling her is Christine Goerke’s potent Ortrud – a baleful creation whose ability to manipulate those around her is brilliantly conveyed.
Conversely, though Klaus Florian Vogt has made a speciality of the title role, his voice lacks true substance and sheen, while Thomas J Mayer’s Telramund is rough-hewn and occasionally coarse. But Georg Zeppenfeld’s King Heinrich and Kostas Smoriginas’ Herald are of the requisite scale and quality to balance the show’s mixed vocal standards.