The new production of Lohengrin, with sets and costumes by husband-and-wife team of Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy promised the first swan knight from Roberto Alagna, an unprecedented career turn for the French-Italian singer. Of course, it was too good to be true, or perhaps too true to be good, in any case, Alagna bowed out a few weeks before the July 25 opening night claiming that he had not learned the part. Polish tenor Piotr Beczala came to the rescue, and why not: he had not only performed the role earlier, but his conductor was Christian Thielemann who was also conducting this production. Opening Night was telecast to theaters in Germany as well as over BR Klassik, and it was the first time in a long while that a new production was not savagely booed. The audience loved the blue colors of the new staging, and Rauch, Loy and director Yuval Sharon, the first American to direct at Bayreuth, received a rousing ovation
Watching the production live at the Festspielhaus is like witnessing a Neo Rauch painting come to life. The devil is in the details, However, and that's where Ms. Loy's costumes make a difference. She takes her husbands flat canvas backdrops and 2-dimensional cut-outs of trees and populates them with principals and a chorus dressed brilliantly, recreating the social realism look of the New Leipzig School that over the years we have come to expect.
Piotr Beczala is a trouper: a life-saver for the Bayreuth Festival. When they were stuck for a new tenor he cancelled his other engagements and agreed to do all the Lohengrins this summer at the Green Hill. But, beware this role! The great tenor Nicolai Gedda only dared perform it once. It is a voice killer for a light tenor. Beczala had performed it before under the baton of Thielemann -- that's how he got to this year's festival, and although last night's performance was a triumph, I heard him pushing his voice to the brink, and I would exercise caution in attempting this role once more. Anja Harteros started very weakly, but by the time the third act came about that silky voice that has been compared to a fine tuned Stradovarius shone through. If you have not hears her, picture a young soprano with the golden voice of Renata Tebaldi, and then you'll know why this German/Greek artist is so sought after around the world.
Although she is a crowd favorite for being active on the stage for so long and for a multitude of brilliant performances around the world, Waltraud Meier sang flat throughout the evening. The role might be getting to her after performing it four times already at the Festpielhaus. It's a challenging role for an elder singer. Nonetheless she brought years of experience to the part, which translated into fireworks for the audience, and they loved it. The Telramund of Tomasz Konieczny was quite remarkable, as was the conducting of the orchestra by Thielemann who by now knows every nook and cranny of this pit and house, and is able to bring out the sound like none other.
Overall, the new Lohengrin is a non-controversial staging of this lovely work, which seems to be enjoying the audience's adulation this summer. After so many years of controversial productions, and experimental designs, is this the way Bayreuth is heading?