So, J, myself, and the better half of a bottle of Svedka took in the conclusion of this 1991 Lohengrin video from the Vienna Staatsoper over the weekend. It's Claudio Abbado at the podium, with Placido Domingo and Cheryl Studer as the swan knight and his special lady, Robert Lloyd as the Fowler, Dunja Vejzovic as Ortrud, and Hartmut Welker as Friedrich.
First off, when confronted with a "traditional" production this stodgy and unimaginative, it's kind of hard NOT to wish that Lohengrin would turn into a robot or Elsa would take her shirt off. And its not just boring, its not even trying. Ortrud's Act II frock totally abandons "medievalish" and goes straight to "dumpy lady on the subway". The various "castles" in that Act looked like they had been built by not very creative kindergartners set loose with a case of gray spraypaint. Hopefully most Vienna productions aren't in this "faux grand" vein. Because it is very, very lame.
That said, the rest of the show was pretty good. Domingo does his "Lohengrin, by Domingo" which is of course wonderful and thrilling. I wouldn't want him to be every Lohengrin, as there are subtleties lost in his 24/7 lusty knight. And apparently his diction blows. But that voice singing this music is just so delicious every time. Should be noted though, that Placido sports the king of all mullets in this production. Business in the front and like the millenium New Years' Eve in Paris in the back.
Cheryl Studer makes a very nice Elsa, if her shooting for the back of the house expressions are a little funny to watch in closeup. The Act III duet is definitely a highlight here, she flips out to full satisfaction while maintaining a lovely tone and stunning blend with Domingo.
Dunja Vejzovic's Ortrud is fine (minus the aforementioned outfit), though I may have been partially underwhelmed since I have been listening to Astrid Varnay's Ortrud on the 1962 Sawallisch recording from Bayreuth recently. If I may:
Astrid Varnay. When that woman opens her mouth it's like a glimpse into another dimension where all sound is just a little bit louder and richer. She's like Sega Genesis vs. the original Ninetndo. Like 800 count sheets vs. the K-mart stuff. There's just so much more "there" there. Good thing Ortrud doesn't show up in more of the opera, because it probably would steal the entire recording. (If you want a hit right now, check her Brunnhilde in the 3rd act of the '51 Karajan Walkure La Cieca posted a while back.)
But I digress. Long story short, a solid Lohengrin video minus how it actually looks, which, come to think of it, actually went quite amusingly with four (five?) Svedka and sodas. Recommended.