WAGNER: Lohengrin
Plácido Domingo (Lohengrin), Robert Lloyd (King Henry), Cheryl Studer (Elsa), Hartmut Welker (Telramund), Dunja Vejzovic (Ortrud), George Tichy (Herald), Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera/Claudio Abbado, cond.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 100 957 TT: 210 min

WAGNER: Lohengrin
George Zeppenfeld (King Henry), Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin), Annette Dasch (Elsa), Jukka Rasilainen (Telramund), Petra Lang (Ortrud), Samuel Youn (Herald); Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orch/Christian Thielemann, cond.
OPUS ARTE DVD TT: 209 min. + 26 min. bonus

DONIZETTI: Lucrezia Borgia
Edita Gruberova (Lucrezia Borgia), Pavol Breslik (Gennaro), Franco Vassalio (Don Alfonso), Alica Coote (Mattio Orsini), Bavarian State Opera Chorus and Orch/Bertrand de Billy, cond.
EUROARTS DVD TT: 133 min. + 54 min. documentary The Art of Bel Canto - Edita Gruberova

This Vienna State Opera production of Lohengrin dates from 1990, and this is its second release on DVD. It is a winner in every way. What a pleasure it is to watch Claudio Abbado before his major health problems; he leads a lyrical,warm performance, and the cast is near-perfect. Plácido Domingo is assured in the title role in one of his earliest ventures into Wagner. Sensible direction is by Wolfgang Weber, with appropriate beautiful sets by Rudolf and Reinhard Heinrich. Brian Large was in charge of video and did his usual excellent job. Video and audio are adequate. This is visually compelling, a superb presentation of Wagner's masterpiece, which surely cannot be said about the next recording. g6vt

Bayreuth's new Lohengrin from the 2011 season (apparently a revision from 2010) is directed by Hans Neuenfels, who states in an interview that there is "humor and fun" in Wagner's music and he wishes to emphasize this. And, with the help of costumes and stage designs by Reinhard von der Thannen, he sort of achieves that goal, hardly to the advantage of Wagner's masterpiece of trust and betrayal. Apparently Neuenfels and his crew are suggesting the whole story is a laboratory experiment. During the ethereal Prelude to Act I we see a head in which the brain is a red rat that then begins a long journey, joined by many other rats (mostly white)—they also represent the chorus. On this DVD, we cannot tell just what the Bayreuth audiences saw—often the view is from the ceiling. Visual effects are quite stunning although they seem to have little to do with the opera. The sparse sets are brilliantly lit, often teaming with vividly colored rats that sometimes removed their costumes and appeared in bright, colored modern clothes. The performance is superb, particularly young tenor Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role; he looks the part and wonderfully conveys the Knight's shifting moods. He also is featured in the Berlin performance conducted by Kent Nagano (REVIEW). Nagano also conducts a Bavarian performance with Jonas Kaufmann in the title role (REVIEW). This is another DVD annoying to watch because of the director's concept, but worth investigating for Kaufmann's magnificent performance. Video and audio are excellent on this Bayreuth version which includes interviews with the producer, Vogt, and Katharina Wagner, daughter of Wolfgang Wagner and great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner. She and her half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier are responsible for many Bayreuth travesties over the past few years. I probably won't watch this performance again, although I might listen to it. At the conclusion of the opera there is a huge ovation that includes many audible boos. On the DVD, only the singers and chorus have curtain calls. I'm certain the director and designer had solo bows that for obvious reasons have not been included. The DVD booklet does not include listing of tracks; for them, the viewer must work on-screen, a tiresome annoyance. Skip this one.

Slovakian coloratura soprano Edita Gruberova (b. 1946) seems to be a force of nature. She has had a distinguished career for well over four decades, recognized as a major singer beginning in 1968 when she sang in The Barber of Seville. Shortly afterwards, she made a sensational debut at the Vienna State Opera as Queen of the Night, which became a signature role for her; there are several videos of her remarkable performance of this demanding music. With her total ease with those stratospheric high notes, she also was a perfect Zerbinetta , which also isavailable on DVD. In recent years, Gruberova has sung many bel canto roles including Norma and Donizetti's queens. This Lucrezia Borgia was filmed in Munich in July 2009, a rather stark production directed by Christof Loy with minimal cheap-looking sets by Henrik Ahr. For some reason, Loy has Genarro (Lucrezia's son), hopping on occasion, looking rather stupid. This is role is beautifully sung by rising young tenor Pavol Breslik, a fine actor as well as a superb singer. . Gruberova is remarkably effective in the title role although some of her coloratura is approximate, a bit forced on some of those climactic notes—but it is remarkable she sings as well as she does at 63. Alice Coote is a fine Orsini but her Brindisi in Act III, although well sung, emphasizes today we do not have mezzos/contraltos with what it takes—check out the stunning 1904 recording on YouTube by ERNESTINE SCHUMANN-HEINK. Also included is a documentary film by Claus Wischmann and Stefan Pannen about Gruberova and her career. The soprano is quite charming, rather resembling Birgit Nilsson, and obviously has a great sense of humor. Video and audio are excellent, but this DVD is solely for the legion of fans of this remarkable coloratura.

R.E.B. (July 2012).