Rats and recycling: Wacky Wagner at Bayreuth

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And instead of muddying the plot, like Baumgarten, Neuenfels advances it. Over the more than three-hour staging, the rats slowly turn into humans, transformed perhaps by the aura of Lohengrin, the knight blessed by god, who defeats evil, but is ultimately defeated by the inconstancy of Elsa, his beloved.

A visual and intellectual pleasure _ accompanied Tuesday by singing that ranged from sub-par to superb.

Astrid Weber, a last-minute stand in for Annette Dasch, failed to convince as Elsa, Lohengrin’s paramour. While powerful, her voice had no center and lacked in range, forcing Weber to glide into the top notes. Her vibrato was irritating and her enunciation fuzzy.

Klaus Florian Vogt was in brilliant contrast as Lohengrin, effortless in delivery and diction, his voice so fluid and natural that it almost seemed untrained _ no overreaching, no straining.

Petra Lang as Ortrud was another highlight, using her powerful mezzo and considerable dramatic skills to convincingly portray Elsa’s evil counterpart, whose scheming ways lead to Elsa’s doom. Also good: Georg Zeppenfeld as King Heinrich; Tomas Tomasson as Telramund and Samuel Youn as the Herald.

Conductor Andris Nelsons and choir leader Eberhard Friedrich provided powerful orchestral and choral backing to the soloists, masterfully balancing Wagner’s imperatives of musical totality.

For Tannhaeuser, best were Camilia Nylund, a vocally and visually striking Elisabeth and Guenther Groissboeck as her father, Hermann, whose demeanor and supple bass were ideal for the gravitas called for in this role.

Michael Nagy was convincing as Wolfram von Eschenbach, as were Lothar Odinius as Walther von der Vogelweide and Thomas Jesatko as Biterolf. Lars Cleveman as Tannhaeuser shone dramatically but occasionally struggled to make himself heard.

For the most part seamlessly blending or carrying the voices as called for by the score, the orchestra, under Thomas Hengelbrock, sometimes lagged in tempo, unnecessarily slowing the pace of already languid musical sequences.

But even the generally satisfying musical renderings cannot redeem the visual transgressions of this Tannhaeuser.

The opera was booed at its first Paris performance, prompting composer Charles Gounod to proclaim: “God grant me a failure like that!”

He did not see this year’s production.


George Jahn can be reached at http://twitter.com/georgejahn

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