Sunday, May 07, 2006

La Dolce Lohengrin

Comme Monsieur D'Annato, I'm having a complicated reaction to Klaus Florian Vogt's Lohengrin last night.

Theoretically, I really love what a voice quality and sensibility like this brings to the role. The ethereal, impossible sweetness in Vogt's Lohengrin is a far cry from the standard lusty knight characterization, and the medieval cautionary tale reading it implies. In heightening Lohengrin's estrangement from the world and sense that he is too perfect, we are brought deeper into the question of whether the holy, utopian love he brings can actually exist among humans and the world they live in. As has been argued, Wagner indicates his later explicit commitment to Schopenhauer's metaphysics here--that destiny for the soul and true happiness actually can't exist in the tangible world we can perceive. Lohengrin's sadness at Elsa's failure is thus our sadness for the world, and the futility of hoping that we can achieve something more perfect than ourselves. Or something like that.

And make no mistake, Vogt presents a marvelous reading in this vein. As promised, "Mein Lieber Schwan" was a thing of heartbreakingly delicate beauty. The effortless honeyed tones produced throughout soared above the ensembles. And as Maury notes, it's really a fascinating aural puzzle trying to reconcile his crystal tone with its volume.

And yet.

A lot of Lohengrin's music just has trouble hitting that sweet spot without that big time lusty sound. Vogt's sweetness, while unimpeachable, had a mannered quality, an excessive concern with placing each note in its proper gold-foil wrapped box that kept the unending lines from soaring to that breaking point one needs for a Grade-A Lohengasm. All the rambling above aside, Lohengrin doesn't quite feel right without that unabashed thrust of the romantic hero. It doesn't have to sound like Verdi, to be sure, but you need to be able to recognize they've got genes in common. And besides, ambivalence about what his departure means aside, he does have to do some serious stuff while he's there, killing people and getting hot for Elsa and stuff. Vogt's Lohengrin sounds more likely to ask her if she wants to get dinner sometime: "I mean, yeah, I guess it would be like a date, but we'll just do something low-key ok? Do you like Thai?" (J had a killer impression of this going by the end of the evening.) There were moments when Vogt deliberately tried add some girth to his sound, but if not intrusive, it was very decidedly not organic, and didn't do much to change that essential lean beef sound. Suggestions over at Maury's place that Strauss might be an interesting fit strike me as very intriguing. I think I would be all over his Bacchus.

So I guess the moral is that Lohengrin is an endlessly fascinating opera, and that Vogt is possessed of a freakishly lovely voice that I would like to hear again. Preferably the next time he takes the mound he'll put a little more spit on the ball.

P.S. The Mattaliciousness just won't quit. Can she please make a recording of this so I can get it and listen to it all the time?


Maury D'annato said...

Well, you could always listen to the broadcast, which I'm sure someone recorded. Hm. On second thought...perhaps you could make a highlights disc.

Anonymous said...

gosh, you make it sound as if you saw melchior at the old house!

really, how many lohengrins have you seen? 2?

Alex said...

Hah. Yeah, I guess I just really like telling Lohengrin how it should be.

For the record I have indeed seen exactly two Lohengrins and both have been in the past two weeks. Tho I have heard a good number more on disc...

Anonymous said...

If he's going to sing Strauss, Bacchus and Kaiser are the roles where the qualities y'all are describing would be most useful. Apollo not so much because that role is more about volume than lyricism, and again from what you're saying, I don't know if he could do 'unhinged' well enough for Menelas.

Lisa Hirsch said...

You've hit an interesting point - that Lohengrin, in addition to some beef, needs a kind of otherworldly quality that yer average Heldentenor hasn't got. I think Konya had exactly the right sound for the part - an extremely beautiful and golden sound wrapped around just the right amount of power.

I think it would not have worked for him on stage, but there are some stunningly gorgeous excerpts recorded in concert by Bjoerling. OH MY GOD.

Liz said...

First, Vogt struck me on Saturday as a jugendlich -- a very ample, fully projected tenor sound, with ease to soar above the heavy orchestra, but STILL a jugendlich. Now, I would love to hear his Bacchus, but Melelas ia a true heldentenor role and he should steer clear. What little I've seen of his bio shows an admirable consistency of fach in his roles so far. The heaviest he has done is Siegmund and, despite Siegmund's low tessitura, this role has worked well for a number of jugendlich singers in the past. Above all, there is a buoyancy, a purity, a freshness to Vogt's sound that is unique and that is not needed and that would be imperilled by attempting heavier roles that others (Heppner when he's in form) can do better.

Second, to get your Mattila fix all over again, listen in online late Saturday night/early Sunday morning on May 21/22 when Australian Broadcasting and Radio New Zealand air the Lohengrin.

Liz and Geoffrey from OperaCast

hab mir's gelobt said...

not to sound too opinionated for my first blog here ... i do agree with lisa that konya is the lohengrin nonplusultra. he had all the role requires (i cant comment on vogt as i havent heard him) ... and must have looked stunning on stage too.

there are several of his off the air recordings available - one in the studio under leinsdorf, where unfortunately his partners are not that overwhelming (amara is ok as elsa but not illuminating, gorr does her job as ortrud but has unpleasant moments etc etc), but we do get the second part of the narration in the last act. there is also a live bayreuth on myto from 1958 with rysanek as elsa and varnay as ortrud. rysanek really lets it rip and if the ortrud werent varnay, shed better duck for shelter! konya is pure bliss.

best of his versions is the one from 1959 bayreuth though (was available on golden melodram) with the great elisabeth gruemmer as elsa (she is in much better voice here than in her official studio recording of a couple of years later). konya and gruemmer just sound as if they were made for each other! check it out, it is virtual perfection :)

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