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Wagner: Lohengrin [Bayreuth Festspiele/Nelsons] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
  • Studio: Opus Arte
  • Blu-ray Release Date: July 31, 2012
  • List Price: $39.99

Overall
[Rating:2.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:2.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Performance

[Rating:2.5/5]


In spite of a an output of only thirteen completed operas, Richard Wagner’s shadow has loomed large over the opera world for the past two centuries.  Lohengrin opens with King Henry putting on trial Elsa von Brabant for the alleged murder of her brother Gottfried, the Duke. Her accuser is Telramund who wishes to become Duke himself. Elsa is rescued by the sudden appearance of a mysterious swan knight, Lohengrin, who defeats Telramund in combat.  Lohengrin agrees to marry Elsa but she must never seek to know his name. Telramund and Ortrud, his wife, plot revenge but eventually are exiled in anticipation of the marriage of Elsa and Lohengrin. Unfortunately, before that takes place, Ortrud convinces Elsa to ask Lohengrin his identity, thereby violating her vows. As Elsa dies, Lohengrin leaves for the castle of the Holy Grail.

This is a curious, frustrating production from the 2010 Bayreuth Festspiele  conceived by director Hans Neuenfels. The world of rats permeates this opera with a profusion of cast members in rat costumes,and a series of animations, also featuring rats projected on a large screen. Modern dress aside, there are numerous nonsensical touches like Elsa’s entrance in a trench coat perforated by arrows or chorus members with tails coming out of their dresses. Musical direction by young Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons is well paced, particularly welcome given Lohengrin’s three and half hours running time. Tenor Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) and soprano Annette Dasch (Elsa) are both quite familiar with their roles and, within the limits of the bizarre dramaturgy and minimalist sets deliver excellent performances.  Georg Zeppenfeld’s cavernous bass makes for a potent King Henry.  Baritone Jukka Rasilainen (Telramund) and mezzo Petra Lang (Ortrud) portray an evil odd couple, shades of the Macbeths, but operating at a notch below the vocal standards of the other principals.

Video Quality

[Rating:4/5]

The Bayreuth Festival productions have generally been well directed and recorded and here, veteran television director Michael Beyer does the best that he can with what he was given.  The stark stage with the recurring theme of rats, including the animations, just does not lend itself to a great aesthetic. The details were a bit softer than usual. The color palette was a contrast between the muted blacks of formal dress and the occasionally garish costumes of the chorus. Close ups are infrequent and there are some overhead camera angles that outline the highly mechanical nature of the stage.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4/5]


The Bayreuth acoustic is world-renowned and the sound engineers convey the wonderful ability for voices to carry over the typical large Wagnerian orchestra.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is far preferable to the rather lifeless PCM 2.0 version for its ambience and focus.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:2/5]


There are 5-minute long interviews with festival director Katherina Wagner (Richard’s  great-grandaughter), director Neuenfels, and leads Vogt and Dasche. We are also “treated” to the full length runs of the animations (titled “Wahrheit” or “Truth”) that were used in the production.  While better than nothing, I still felt short-changed given the most unusual nature of this production.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:2.5/5]

Fellow viewers, there are a bunch of Lohengrin videos out there, but only one BD, a Baden-Baden performance led by Kent Nagano and also featuring tenor Vogt.  Nearly all of the other DVDs, including a more traditional 1982 Bayreuth production, feature some outstanding performances, but none clearly sweeps the field.  The current Lohengrin has the beautiful, honey-sweet voice of its tenor, a more passionate and spirited than usual Elsa, a strong King Henry, and decent support (if not great vocalism) from the villains,  good work in the pit, but as evidenced by the loud boos of the audience, bizarre staging and direction. More’s the pity since BDs are intended to be seen as well as heard, and this is one that will not find its way back into my BD player any time soon.

Additional Screen Captures

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Overall
[Rating:2.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:2.5/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:2/5]

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