Konieczny, Herlitzius, Netrebko and Beczala in the Semperoper Dresden production of Wagner's opera
© Daniel Koch
AFTER SEVEN YEARS of igniting Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Massenet and Donizetti with their onstage chemistry, the team of Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala has added Wagner to the list with the Dresden Semperoper’s springtime revival of Lohengrin (seen May 25). The results were flabbergasting—this was a ridiculously good performance.
Anna Netrebko’s role debut as Elsa was one of the most wildly anticipated musical events of the past decade. The performance I attended with filmed by an army of cameras, positioned throughout the theater like the opera’s heralding trumpets. The forty-four-year-old soprano sang a lush, mature-sounding Elsa with undeniable bel canto shadings, utterly at home in Wagner’s Romantic universe. Netrebko’s finely calibrated interpretation captured the full range of Elsa’s emotional development, from helplessness to devout conviction and then despair—the trajectory that is the very plot of Lohengrin. Her plush voice seemed to glow from within, with relentless dramatic sweep and surge and ravishing dark shadings that ornamented her rapturous response to Lohengrin’s victory in the Gottesgericht and her fraught oath at the end of Act II (“Mein Retter, der mir Heil gebracht”).
Like his co-star, Beczala seemed quite comfortable visiting new musical territory. Over the past five years, Wagnerians in Europe have fallen under the spell of Klaus Florian Vogt and his exquisitely wafting voice. Beczala’s Lohengrin was in some ways a return to the muscular yet lilting portrayal that was once the norm—a Lohengrin that was much closer to that of Plácido Domingo than that of Jonas Kaufmann (and his baritonal cooing). With bright, firm tones, Beczala sang with warmth, flexibility and crisp confidence. He was capable of steely resolve or hushed magnificence; he effectively made Act III a single beautifully calculated crescendo. Over the long evening, his deftly supported heroic tones resounded with clarity and freshness.
Evelyn Herlitzius, the powerful German soprano who sank her teeth into Ortrud, is no stranger to the role. Herlitzius charged full speed ahead with monstrous determination, usually with bloodcurdlingly effective results; she was utterly compelling in her brazenly sung fury, no more so than with her imperious yet eloquent disruption of the wedding procession.
Polish bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny did a fair bit of snarling and growling, which was hardly out of place for Telramund, although he might have toned the cartoon villainy down a bit. Like Herlitzius, his finest moment came at the end of Act II, with a ringing and full accusation against the foreign knight and his “wilde Schwan.” Perhaps aware that this was his last opportunity to impress, Konieczny turned up the volume in a major way and let loose with excitingly robust long-spun phrases, one after the other. Rounding out the low voices was the elegantly regal King Heinrich of Georg Zeppenfeld (Bayreuth’s triumphant new Marke) and the forceful herald of Derek Welton, a young Australian baritone who recently sang an excellent Prus in the Deutsche Oper Berlin’s new Makropulos Case.
Bayreuth’s music director Christian Thielemann—arguably today’s leading Wagner maestro—led the magnificent forces of the Dresden Staatskapelle in a grandly sweeping account of the score. As dramatically incisive as it was musically accomplished, Thielemann’s approach was replete with brilliantly highlighted details—such as the slinky clarinet figure that follows the herald’s second, unanswered call and the crisp winds in the interlude before act two’s closing scene—and vivid pacing. From the delicately spun overture, played with an honest, transparent quality, Thielemann and his masterful musicians were consistently focused and committed; nothing sounded maudlin or overdone. Their control was astounding, as was the unfailingly brilliant brass, doing excellent work from the pit, the stage and from the side boxes. It was hard to imagine a performance that more perfectly combined intensity, beauty and control. Thielemann also kept the textures open and uncluttered during the myriad ensemble scenes, where the massive chorus sang with sensitivity if not always with incisive flair. The Act II finale, with Beczala’s fragile, yearning “Heil dir, Elsa! Nun lass' vor Gott und geh'n” against the church organ and the gradual swell of the orchestra and full chorus was nothing short of spine tingling.
Netrebko and Bezcala were announced for these roles in 2014. While it would have been nice to see the Semperoper unveil a new production in their honor, it was difficult to imagine a better showcase for them than this revival of Christine Mielitz’s traditional 1983 production, a warhorse staging that has been seen at the house more than 100 times and did nothing to distract from the musical and vocal excellence of this performance. After an afternoon strolling through Dresden’s meticulously reconstructed Altstadt, the production almost feels like an extension of its perfectly laid out medieval squares. —A. J. Goldmann