I spent a few hours this morning watching Richard Jones’s production of Wagner’s Lohengrin for the Bayerische Staatsoper, with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role and Anja Harteros as Elsa. I am not sure that even this production, which was a worthwhile concept performed well, has brought me around to this opera. In part, this was because I was watching it with le spouse, who started laughing and snorting coffee when Mr. Kaufmann came in cradling that animatronic-ish swan and who proceeded to sit there and nitpick the logic of the entire thing and then went and sat on the other side of the room reading a treatise about thermodynamics and enjoying the music.
Here is Anja Harteros singing Schubert’s “Gretchen am Spinnrade.” This interpretation sounds unusually (and not unpleasantly) spacious to me, probably because the version of this song that I first absorbed was much more of an “anguished Gretchen! anguished!” sort of vibe.
(Previous section here.)
And then there’s Jonas Kaufmann as Carlos, who is certainly also a reason to listen to this. His voice sounds deeper and more solid than some other Carloses I have heard; this Carlos is youthful and passionate, but he doesn’t give the character that “confused and in way over his head” vibe.
One of the first things that appears in my notes for this (after “has Carlos gone ice-fishing?” because of the scenery in that first bit) is “what a voice this guy has” followed shortly by “yowza” in connection with some of the phrasing in Carlos’s bit where he’s going on about his “casto amor.”
(Previous section here.)
In terms of concept this production did not seem radically different from other productions of this opera that I have seen. But the acting and stage direction do do something rather sweet and human and emphasize that Carlos and Elisabeth love each other in that elevated Verdian way, but they also want one another and crave the comfort of human contact. The two are about to snuggle up together on Carlos’s cloak when the chorus shows up in Act I to give them the news of the great change in plans; there are moments all through the opera where Elisabeth has her hands on Carlos’s shoulders or arms and then suddenly pulls back with this sort of “Merde! I’m touching him again!” look on her face; they consistently have their hands on one another during their big moments together, but it’s neither unalloyed lust nor a simple need for human connection – it’s somewhere between the two, and the fact that they can’t (for a variety of reasons) make it one or the other is fairly key to their whole unhappy situation.
This Don Carlos was broadcast from Salzburg back in August. Apparently it has been on and off YouTube ever since – I think the Salzburg people are probably fighting an uphill battle as far as that is concerned. But isn’t that Firefox widget that adds a ‘download’ option to YouTube videos really cool? I say this only as an unconnected observation, not because I have been downloading videos of Salzburg broadcasts.
I wanted to see this because I will hear Verdi’s Don Carlos (Don Carlo when it’s in French) any chance I can get but also because the Elisabeth in this production is Anja Harteros. When I saw the DVD of Harteros as Alcina one of the aspects of that performance that struck me was those lovely high floated pianissimos. And Elisabeth is a role that contains a lot of high ethereal pianissimos.
The ‘play-within-a-play’ conceit that this production uses is actually doing more work than it appears to. The first time I saw the introductory scene that occurs during the overture, my impression was that there was almost too much story going on. The program notes inform us that this is the Duchess of Devonshire (Georgiana Cavendish) and her circle, who are dressing up as the characters in Alcina for the ‘performance’ of the opera. (There are going to be a lot of quotation marks in this post).