Lohengrin: an opera review by Alex First

May 17, 2022 by Alex First
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Treachery and subterfuge abound in the Australian premiere of a new production of Richard Wagner’s otherworldly romance Lohengrin at the State Theatre, Arts Centre in Melbourne.

Emily Magee as Elsa and Jonas Kaufmann as Lohengrin in Opera Australia’s 2022 Production of Lohengrin at Arts Centre Melbourne                      Photo Credit Jeff Busby

It is a big and bold work – a spectacle – headlined by arguably the world’s most in-demand tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, in a lead role he makes his own

Attracting Kaufmann to Melbourne is a major coup.

Since his sensational 2006 debut in La Traviata at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, he has been hailed as “the new king of tenors”.

He has since appeared in the grand opera houses of the world – in Milan, Paris, London, Berlin and Vienna, to name but a few.

We are introduced to the war-torn environment in which the action takes place through a gargantuan, three-tier rotating set, the stunning work of Pierre-André Weitz (who has also designed the striking monochromatic costumes).

It shows the ruins of Berlin in the aftermath of WWII. Smashed windows and cavernous holes in faux concrete are its hallmarks.

The story centres around a false accusation that an older sister murdered her younger brother.

That claim is made by Count Friedrich von Telramund (Simon Meadows), who is being manipulated by his pagan witch wife, Ortrud (Elena Gabouri).

The alleged perpetrator is Elsa (Emily Magee), who channels a knight she saw in her dreams (Jonas Kaufmann) to fight the charge.

What emerges is the equivalent of a Greek tragedy.

I found Lohengrin, an Opera Australia co-production with Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, mesmerising. French director Olivier Py has crafted something very special. It is dark and audacious.

Wagner’s music, at times triumphal and including the popular Bridal March, has great appeal.

Wielding the baton is the Head of Music at Opera Australia, Tahu Matheson, who leads Orchestra Victoria and the Opera Australia Chorus.

Apart from its staging, which includes evocative lighting by Bertrand Killy, which well captures the mood, several performances stand out.

I already referenced Jonas Kaufmann.

Mezzo-soprano Elena Gabouri is a delight as evil incarnate Ortrud, a wicked smile being all but a constant bedfellow, her voice soaring to the heavens.

Baritone Simon Meadows shines as the tortured and manipulated Telramund.

Bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi has an enduring stage presence as King Heinrich.

Love and loss are the domain of American soprano Emily Magee’s character.

Also particularly impressive is the baritone Warwick Fyfe, who plays the herald.

The first outing of Py’s production since it premiered in Brussels in 2018 is an overwhelming success.

Arts Centre Melbourne is the only place to see it until 24th May, for it is exclusive to Opera Australia’s Melbourne season.

Four hours 20 minutes, including two 25-minute intervals, for me the time passed quickly, a sure sign I was thoroughly absorbed in and enjoying what I was seeing.

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