The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Hugo Wolf; Henry Pleasants | Go to book overview

54. Lohengrin

May 24, 1885

Herr Vogl from Munich is unquestionably the most intelligent of all Wagnerian singers. Not a glance, not a gesture, not a vocal nuance that is not relevant to the drama in progress. Everything he does has significance, breathes real life.

There are times, admittedly, when one notes a suggestion of purposeful design in his actions, as though Herr Vogl wished to call the audience's attention to a certain subtle nuance in his performance. Miming, however, as Börne1 says, is like the face of a clock, indicating inner movement, but not the actual clockwork revealing its own movements. In the present case, the clockwork is the music, which certainly leaves nothing undisclosed, especially since the Leitmotifs constantly hold the listener riveted, directing his attention to the scenic happenings on the stage. Herr Vogl would do well to content himself with being the face of the clock. Another thing: Herr Vogl sang the passage [in Act III] from "Dein Lieben muss mir hoch entgelten" [Your love must compensate me richly] to "Böt mir der Konig seine Krone" [Were the king to offer me his crown] in such sharply accented rhythm and, at the same time, so casually that it bordered on street balladry.

If there is anything about Herr Vogl's vocalism that might disturb me, it would probably be the abrupt breaking off of a tone after a strong crescendo. This vocal procedure can, under certain circumstances, be incomparably effective, especially in recitative and in rousing episodes of a violent character, but not in cantilena, not in sustained song, where every tone must be nicely rounded, i.e., no crescendo without the compensating, complementary diminuendo. Herr Vogl, a great vocal artist, knows all that better than I, but he doesn't always know when he errs.

The narrative at the close of the opera, too, could have been quieter, gentler, softer, more mysterious. He put too much passion into it, was too much the mortal. Lohengrin's eye, during this narrative, is directed above and beyond the circle of his immediate environment. His spirit dreams of the wonders of Monsalvat while his earthly self tarries among ordinary mortals long enough to address them for the last time. So, too, should his voice be none other than the instrument expressing ecstatically his spirit's unworldly dream. What tenderness, what lyrical poesy, is not required to realize such demands! Herr Vogl's Lohengrin fully deserves, nevertheless, the most cordial acknowledgment. If the audience showered him with applause on this occasion, it was for once entirely justified in so doing.

-147-

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