Saturday 24 January 2015

Domingo/Kaufmann/Wagner: "Lohengrin".


"Act One [prelude] [B]
"The banks of the river Scheldt.
"Near Antwerp, King Henry the Fowler of Saxony has assembled a group of Brabantine nobles and commoners to discuss affairs of state. He is dismayed to find the local political situation in disarray … and suddenly a knightly figure is seen approaching in a small boat drawn by a swan …"

"Act Three [finale, 'In fernem Land': i.e. in a foreign/distant land]
"The banks of the river Scheldt.
"… He narrates the story of the Holy Grail and its keepers, and how he … was sent …"

Unfortunately, I could not find both videos taken from the same production of Richard Wagner's "Lohengrin, romantic opera in three acts", so we have different orchestras, choirs and conductors: three different interpretations. Still, one can appreciate Lohengrin's leitmotif in both videos (hint: pay attention to the music accompanying Plácido Domingo). Wagner gave great importance to them.

Besides its undeniable beauty (I'll confess: I am a fan of Wagner), "Lohengrin" in many ways exemplifies the ideals of the nineteenth century European (indeed, global) romantic artistic and cultural movement: focus on individuals and emotions, nature reflecting those emotions, exotic/medieval settings, the hero, struggle against all odds, tragedy and fate, among others. It has a clear popular appeal (see here, however, for the other side of the romantic coin).

A more modern and equally magnificent (in fact, critically acclaimed) performance of "In fernem Land" follows below. The tenor is Jonas Kaufmann, in the role of Lohengrin. The contrast between both performances should prove instructive. While still recognizably romantic, viewers will find it visually different; the idea is to give the performance a more modern look, consonant with modern sensibilities (hint: compare both tenors' body languages, facial expression, and clothing and stage lighting).

Note, however, the soprano, Anja Harteros, in the role of Elsa von Brabant, trying to stop Lohengrin's speech and her final dismay: their fate is tragically sealed by Lohengrin's answer to her otherwise natural question.

Image Credits and Notes:
[A] The beautiful photo opening this post comes from Justin Mier's blog, specializing in photography; I believe he is the author, to whom all credits are due and all rights belong. It seems appropriate to this subject because one could almost see the Swan Knight emerging from the fog and approaching the shore.
[B] All quotes from the booklet included with the CD box set The RCA Opera Treasury - Lohengrin (1997, BMG Classics).

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