Photo: Angers Nantes Opera
“It’s like the murmur of such a wondrous brook.” That is how little Nepomuk, the nephew of Adrian Leverkühn, the hero of Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, comments on the stories that are read to him. We might say the same about the splendid concert representation of Wagner’s Lohengrin that is given to us in Nantes tonight. Right with the overture and its hair-raising pianissimos, Pascal Rophé and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire take us to a far away land. Wagner in concert version might sound like a bit of a dare, his operas being a tad longish. Not at all, quite on the contrary: when one is not constantly wondering about the sense of this object or that on the stage, or about the strangeness of some costumes, one understands much better this arch-romantic, archetypical story, with its deep psychological subtexts. Especially tonight, as the story is being told in such a marvellous way. Pascal Rophé conducts the ONPL without baton, intelligently penetrating and enlightening the work in all its dimensions. He gives it an intense permanent drive that pushes the story, inexorable like Nepomuk’s wondrous brook. In spite of the grand Wagnerian orchestra, he keeps a light fluid sound. The tempi are always just so, thus he takes the duo Ortrud – Telramund in the second act unusually slowly. Instead of leading to heaviness however, this tempo underlines the dramatic impact of this key scene. The excellent cast does the rest: soprano Juliane Banse is splendid as Elsa, dreamy and ethereal; her elegant round voice remains smooth unto the highest forte. Elsa, come to think of it, is an adolescent: she dreams of her Prince Charming, lets herself be charmed by the serpent Ortrud, and finally rejects Prince Charming on the wedding bed. Ortrud, on the other hand, is woman in all her aspects; she impersonates everything feminine that man is afraid of. Catherine Hunold, whom we already loved in Rennes in this part and are happy to meet again here, incarnates her with brio, and in every sense of the word. Her Ortrud is an undaunted woman who knows just what she wants, and shoulders her responsibilities. The mezzo-soprano, just as her character, is not afraid of meeting the challenge. Generous and ample voice, free and natural, she has no trouble with the highest and the lowest notes of the part; her gold and honey timbre doesn’t keep her from adding a bit of spite if need be. With her, it’s easy to understand that the number one protagonist of the story is Ortrud; she is not only the power-hungry sorceress who will go to any length to become mistress of the Duchy of Brabant, she lives by the Germanic creeds and gods and tries to halt the victory of Christendom with its emblematic symbol of the Holy Grail… Her husband, Friedrich von Telramund, is just her puppet, really. Tonight it’s English baritone Robert Hayward who takes on the part. Deep ringing timbre, intense stage interaction – with these two it’s easy to imagine the nightly castle around them as they sing their duet. German tenor Daniel Kirch, whom we already noticed in Die Tote Stadt here in Nantes, is Lohengrin. With his warm and slightly metallic timbre, he is a manly and courageous Lohengrin, the perfect Grail’s knight indeed. French bass Jean Teitgen sings the part of King Heinrich with elegance and dignity. His herold is sung by Philippe-Nicolas Martin, just as elegantly and with impeccable diction. A Wagner evening as it should be, exalting the mind and enchanting the soul, that ends in unending and well-deserved applause. Bravi tutti and thank you!