With his good looks and fine voice, tenor Peter Hofmann, born in Germany in 1944, was a natural for the role of Lohengrin, which he sang often in leading opera houses. Not actually a heldentenor, I imagine he was severely taxed by Tristan, but he excelled in lighter Wagnerian roles. Later in his career he had a successful career in rock music, and in 1990 sang Erik in a Hamburg production of The Phantom of the Opera. For the past decade or so he has dealt with Parkinson's disease. Here we have the opportunity to hear (and watch) him in happier days in two superb productions of Lohengrin. The Bayreuth production was filmed without an audience June 25-30, 1982. The production is by Götz Friedrich, whose 1972 Bayreuth Tannhäuser was booed lustily, but here the famous director is relatively mild. There is no swan, sets are stark, costumes relatively simple except for Lohengrin who in the first part of the opera is dressed in shining white, but at the end is robed in black. The cast is excellent in every way, and conductor Woldemar Nelsson (who also led the 1985 Bayreuth video of The Flying Dutchman (see REVIEW), is a master of things Wagnerian—it seems odd these are his only two recordings. The chorus is magnificent, Brian Large's video direction superb. The 5.l "surround sound" is outstandingly effective, well capturing the warmth and resonance of the famed opera house.
The Met Lohengrin was filmed January 10, 1986 for television. It is equal to the Bayreuth production, and in some ways better. Eva Marton's Elsa finds the soprano in her prime, and Leonie Rysanek's maniacal Ortrud is a stunning operatic characterization. Leif Roar repeats his Telramund from Bayreuth; he is ideal for the role, as is Hoffman. The Met Chorus and Orchestra are perfection, and James Levine's conducting is what we have come to expect from him over his many Met years. The artificially induced 5.1 "surround sound" is satisfying, if a bit bass-heavy. The Bayreuth video offers subtitles in English, German, French and Spanish; the Met adds Chinese to the list, and has a trailer picture gallery of presentations of Lohengrin at the Met. Both of these videos are highly recommended.
The Vienna State opera production of Faust is another winner for opera fans. The production and video direction are by British film-maker Ken Russell who puts his own stamp on the production. Russell told an interviewer he felt the plot was "silly" so he turned Marguerite into a young nun, eliminated the Walpurgis Night ballet, had Marguerite use sign-language for Valentin's deaf-mute children, and had Mephistopheles disrespectfully urinating in the stoup in church. However, the overall effect is visually engrossing, the vivid sets and costumes by Karl Toms are effective. And the singing is outstanding. Tenor Francisco Araiza handles the title role with confidence. Ruggero Raimondi, while he may not have the impressive lower register of many devils of the past, is a superb actor. Soprano Gabriela Benackova is in magnificent voice as the innocent Marguerite, and other major roles are impressively sung. I've never heard of conductor Erich Binder, but he leads a powerful performance. The video was made in the Vienna State opera House March 23, 1985, and the 5.l "surround sound," which was artificially induced, is wonderful. Recommended!
R.E.B. (September 2006)