Lohengrin review - The Australian

Melbourne Opera’s Lohengrin: ideal approach to Wagner

Melbourne Opera’s ambition is showing no signs of abating. The company is preparing for a third China tour, delivering cycles of demanding Donizetti and Wagner operas, and sliding from cosy Athenaeum Theatre headquar­ters into grand venues typically reserved for commercial musicals. The latest enterprise is a staging of Wagner’s Lohengrin under the neoclassical dome of the Regent Theatre, just 12 months after it brought Tann­hauser to this stage and six months before a new Tristan and Isolde at the Palais Theatre.

Alongside successes in resourcing and logistics, this production reveals a further leap forward in terms of artistic merit. Director Suzanne Chaundy and conductor David Kram bring dramatic clarity, accessible psychological shading and naturalistic fluency to score and staging, perfusing the opera’s cosmic conflation of folkloric, mystical and preternatural elements with deeply human preoccupations concerning belief and trust: sensibilities and struggles born of hope and doubt, fear and tolerance, selflessness and frailty.

The directness of Chaundy’s blocking suits the work’s Germanic core, slicing open its starkly gendered innards. A substant­ial male chorus, decked out in Lucy Wilkins’s fantasy of Celtic-Nordic-Viking warrior elements, clusters in packs on the angular outcrops of Christina Logan-Bell’s set and flexes against Yandell Walton’s projections of moody skies and cathedral buttresses.

Chiselling through massed vocal lines and lyrics of religious extremism and nationalist intent, this is steely ensemble work that avoids hamming. In this warrior culture, women are docile creatures in need of a hero’s protection and the massed female chorus is suitably pure of voice and modestly attired.

Against this backdrop, the old-new dynamic at play between female leads comes into stark contrast: Sarah Sweeting’s exacting and powerful Ortrud is a Lady Macbeth clinging to the dark elements of the old German pantheon while Helena Dix’s passive, lyrically opulent Elsa blindly ushers in an age of purity built on incontestable reverence.

Kram’s robust account of Wagner’s orchestral riches features solid string sectional work, confident brass chorales and sensitive dynamic adjustments.

In a fine cast, company stalwarts Phillip Calcagno and Eddie Muliaumaseali’i make for an earnest herald and an imposing king, while visiting Icelandic baritone Hrolfur Sae­mundsson and Romanian held­entenor Marius Vlad, bring vocal assurance and dramatic flair to Friedrich and Lohengrin.



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