No Madelaines were harmed in reviewing this DVD. It’s a 1992 recording from the Wiener Staatsoper of, of course, Lohengrin and its main claim to fame is that stars Placido Domingo (note no further jokes about water fowl despite the prominent role of Heinrich der Vogler). It’s one of those DVDs from the 80s and 90s that are a bit frustrating. The singing is very good indeed. Domingo is superb and the rest are at least very good plus Abbado conducts with real flair but the production is dull as ditch water and the video quality is awful.
Let’s start with the production. Wolfgang Weber seems to be trying to offer us a literal picture of early 10th century Antwerp, which isn’t a very exciting start. He costumes Heinrich’s retinue in a sort of blueblack and yellow striped livery so they look rather like Heinrich’s Hornets. Elsa is first scene in an outfit that makes her look more like the Old Prioress in Dialogues of the Carmelites than a radiant young maiden. The Personenregie seems to be pretty much limited to lining the soloists up in front of the chorus and singing out to the audience. Any action there might be is rather obscured by most of it taking place in Stygian darkness. Plus, I’m afraid i do find an unironic Act 3, Scene 1 a bit hard to take. The swan is rather impressive though.
This really is a shame because this is a wonderfully sung and conducted Lohengrin. Domingo must be as good in this role as anyone who has ever sung it. He’s powerfully lyrical, perfectly in control and sings a beautiful line. It’s recordings like this that make one realise why he was so highly rated in his prime. Cheryl Studer’s Elsa maybe sounds a little too mature but it’s still beautiful singing. Robert Lloyd’s Heinrich is a fine traditional interpretation; powerful and masculine. Hartmut Welker is quite as outstanding as Telramund but he’s perfectly serviceable and Dunja Vejzovic is a suitably unpleasant Ortrud. Claudio Abbado conducts a most emphatic reading of the score to which the orchestra responds with some very dramatic playing. The chorus is pretty good too.
Technically this is a mixed bag too. The stereo sound is pretty good but the picture quality is decidedly sub par. It’s a 4:3 filmed for television effort and it’s not even stable. There’s a fair bit of flickering going on, probably because so musc of it is so dark. Video direction is by Brian Large and I don’t envy him. This must have been near impossible to film and he does his best by focussing on what’s actually visible. There are no extras. The booklet contains a synopsis and a track listing and subtitler options are German, English, French, Italian and Spanish.
This disk feels like a missed opportunity. This cast in even, say, the Met’s August Everding production would have been rather special.