Lohengrin review - The Age

Melbourne Opera successfully tackles early Wagner


The great Italian composer Rossini was not a fan of Lohengrin: "One can't judge it after a first hearing, and I certainly don't intend hearing it a second time," he said.


Fortunately Melbourne Opera has a higher opinion of Wagner's early masterwork, and provided convincing evidence at the Regent Theatre on Monday.


The parts came together very well: strong principals, a capable cast, sensitive conducting and intelligent direction plus particularly impressive contributions from the semi-professionals in the chorus and orchestra.


Lohengrin is regarded as the high point of German romantic opera, before Wagner's later works revolutionised the art form, and director Suzanne Chaundy​ played it pretty straight, with Lucy Wilkins' attractive costumes loosely appropriate to the 10th century German setting.


Yandell Walton's clever video backdrop allowed a simple set, achieving a brilliant highlight with Lohengrin's arrival by swan.


Marius Vlad, a triumphant Tannhauser for the company last year, was again a noble hero: sweetly lyrical, with commendable clarity and tonal security, especially in the demanding last act. Helena Dix, a naive and pure-toned Elsa, spun out some ravishing soft passages, and Hrolfur Saemundsson​ was a tormented Friedrich.


Sarah Sweeting, a malevolent Ortrud, and MO stalwart Eddie Muliaumaseali'I as Emperor Henry were both a little uneven, but their best moments were very fine.


It is hard for semi-professional forces to maintain intensity for more than 3½ hours, but there were relatively few creaky moments. The chorus works harder in Lohengrin than most Wagner operas, and they rose to the challenge with relish and some great triple fortes.


Conductor David Kram​ was attuned to his singers, with a flowing sense of line and shape, and kept the tricky textures together. The ethereal high strings that open the first prelude were delightful, and the busy trumpeters were excellent.


It is remarkable that Melbourne Opera, working without any subsidies, should be so ambitious – and so successful.


Reviewer: Barney Zwartz