Tuesday, June 12, 2007

About-face: Closing night of Lohengrin at the Bastille

OK, so, I take back what I said about Mireille Delunsch's Elsa. Heard in excellent form last night, she's an outstanding Elsa. Her voice is creamy yet has a steely strength that's ideal for the part's wickedly high tessitura. At certain moments, I fantasized about hearing that voice sing Salome. Her solid acting also moved me. She was every inch the serene blonde girl dreaming about her savior. In the third act, plagued by doubt, she became frantically unhinged, running upstage into the darkness armed with a dim flame, imagining the arrival of the swan to take away her lover and savior.

There are few things as amazing as Ben Heppner on a good night. His clarion, ringing sound, and his musical, intelligent phrasing melt my heart. Last night he sang with relative ease, showing little of the strain that was in full display at the performance I attended last week.

It occurred to me that Ortrud has so very little to sing in the first act, and yet Waltraud Meier seemed to dominate the crowded stage. Her dramatic presence was so powerful that when she emerged on the balcony, at the end of the second act, to glare at Lohengrin and Elsa, standing hand in hand on the opposite balcony, I nearly jumped out of my seat. The expression on her face was so evil that if she had shot me a glance, I swear I would have turned to stone.

The orchestra played splendidly. The trouble in the strings last week was not present last night. I greatly admire the vitality and spontaneity of Gergiev's reading of the score.

The cast was exuberant during multiple curtain calls, and the sold-out crowd was on its feet. I heard very few people around me speaking French; Wagnerites had traveled from all over to witness this star-studded production.

One thing about the staging: last week, I was puzzled that Elsa's brother planted a sapling at the very end of the opera. But last night it made sense. He had been anointed by a knight of the grail, who had emerged from the lush forest symbolic of his faraway land. The planting of a tree in the barren, war-torn wasteland of Brabant is a symbol of hope. As the tree grows and flourishes, so will he. Meier pointed at him and leaned over the balcony, extending her fingers like talons. But she couldn't reach him; evil had been conquered.

On my way to the Bastille, I saw a poster in the Luxembourg RER station, and boy am I glad I did, because I have just ordered a ticket to this:

What luck! Just two days before I leave Paris, Osvaldo Golijov will conduct, at the Festival de St-Denis, the French premiere of Ayre with Dawn Upshaw, Gustavo Santaolalla, and the Andalucian Dogs! What a send-off...

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