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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 10, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 37
Accessible Wagner with plenty of eye candy
Arts & Entertainment
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Accessible Wagner with plenty of eye candy

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

I pick only the most promising videos to review in these articles, so don't expect much in the way of scathing negativity. After all, why should I draw your attention to discs I didn't think you'd want to own? Sometimes a disc will disappoint. But mainly I want these occasional reviews of classical performances on disc to be rather strong recommendations.

No trouble here in strongly recommending this superb DVD (no BD yet available) of Wagner's Lohengrin.

If you have not yet warmed to Wagner's music, this would be a very good place to give it a go. Even more lyrical than The Flying Dutchman, this early work is full of the most gorgeous music. And the story is appealing and simple.

The main reason I found this gem is the presence of tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Lohengrin. Not only is he great here; he virtually re-defines what it means to be a Wagnerian tenor. No heldentenor has sung with such warmth and subtlety since Jon Vickers. Vickers could sing both loud and soft, but there was no smooth connection between the two, and his soft singing often lacked a core to the sound. But Kaufmann moves easily in a perfectly focused tone from soft to loud and back again. His technique is so perfect that his face hardly shows he is singing!

That leaves his lovely face free to act and be the heartthrob that he can be. Supremely masculine and well-proportioned, he pulls one's attention into the heart of what's going on. Seldom does one see such consistent and convincing acting on the opera stage.

Equally engaging is Anja Harteros as Elsa. She too sings with lots of gorgeous soft singing, yet lacks nothing when power is called for. She and Kaufmann make a perfect pair, with lots of chemistry.

This performance at the Bayerisches Statsoper, Munich, 2009 Festival, is top-notch musically. Kent Nagano conducts with vitality and sweep and all the remaining parts are expertly handled. Wolfgang Koch and Michaela Schuster strike terror with their evil portrayals of Wagnerian versions of Lady Macbeth and her easily manipulated husband.

The production, directed by Richard Jones and designed by Ultz, is updated to Germany in the 1930s. It is relatively spare without feeling stark and in no way gets in the way of the music. Video and sound quality are state-of-the-art without being quite up to Blu-Ray hi-def quality.

You'll find the best deal not from Amazon, but on the Amazon.com website. When you find the disc, click on the "new and used" button. You will get a better price and with no sales tax, plus a modest shipping charge.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@Columbia.edu.

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