Magazine article The Spectator

A Conductor's Triumph

Magazine article The Spectator

A Conductor's Triumph

Article excerpt

A conductor's triumph


Royal Opera

The latest revival of Elijah Moshinsky's production of Lohengrin is musically speaking a triumph, which once more demonstrates that the most important person in an operatic performance is the conductor. With this glowing, spacious but always compelling account Mark Elder shows himself to have become one of the two leading Wagner conductors of our time, the other being Richard Armstrong (both old members, incidentally, of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge). His journey to that position has been fairly arduous, with some harsh setbacks on the way. But now there can't be any question: Lohengrin is an exceptionally difficult work to bring off completely, which is what happens at the Royal Opera this time round. For a long period Elder, like Armstrong, was unduly influenced by Goodall, but only so far as breadth of tempi were concerned, so that many of his performances of Wagner were wearisomely long-winded. Now he keeps the long line going, aerates the orchestral textures, maintains a singing tone, never allows his singers to lapse into mere declamation - which is almost inevitable in this opera - and builds to overwhelming climaxes over huge time-spans (all of them Goodall characteristics, of course). The ends of the first two acts were breathtaking.

Once more, too, the orchestra showed how marvellous it is when it is fully engaged, in music that is worth playing and under a conductor who believes in every bar. The chorus was on splendid form, all-important in a work where they are not only participants but also incessant commentators. As James Treadwell remarks in a brilliant essay in the programme book (his recent book Interpreting Wagner is also excellent, but seems to have passed without comment in the press so far), there is a strange publicity about almost the whole work, very few things happening in private - rather, things fail to happen in private. Covent Garden's chorus hurl themselves into the martial passages, and sing the awestruck music of welcome and bemusement with wonderfully quiet full tone.

The soloists constitute an impressive international line-up, but only one is a great singer and artist: Rene Pape as Konig Heinrich. He is in the finest tradition of dark-voiced German basses, and animates his sometimes prosaic music at every turn. The protagonists are less impressive, though none of them is a disaster. Robert Dean Smith has become perhaps the leading Wagnerian lyric tenor, but his voice lacks any hint of glamour or allure. …

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