Two Lohengrins at Coburg: Wagner & Sciarrino

The Landestheater Coburg had the bright idea of bringing together in a single weekend Wagner’s Lohengrin and Sciarrino’s modernistic monodrama on the same theme, an exploration of Elsa’s psychological state as she is denied consummation on the wedding night. The Sciarrino proved be a compelling piece of musical theatre, particularly when it was performed not in a concert version as promised but in an imaginative staging by Bodo Busse, the young bride sustaining her trauma as she struggles with herself and her trousseau on a broad stage dimly lit by scores of small candles. And Salome Kammer gave a virtuoso performance, coughing, spluttering, grunting and groaning her way with immaculate precision through the intricate score. The following evening, Carlos Wagner’s production of his namesake’s more famous version also focused on Elsa. She was the innocent victim of a massive power struggle between different political factions. What we lost in terms of the poetry of the work was more than compensated for by acute observations on how power corrupts, even the virtuous Lohengrin.

Although one became a little bored by the single set – a legislative chamber in which the more formal utterances were made in front of microphones – there were some excellent touches. For example, the delegates confirmed one’s long held conviction that King Heinrich really is a bore as he ploughs through his conventional patriotic speeches, and Ortud was all the more convincing because she tempted Elsa over a nice cup of coffee. All the singers performed well, but the two women, Betsy Horne as Elsa and Martina Langenbucher as Ortud should be singled out for their idiomatic and powerful contributions. If the orchestra, most ably directed by Roland Kluttig who had also conducted the Sciarrino, could not quite meet the exacting demands of Wagner’s score, this Lohengrin was nevertheless a fine achievement for a small opera company.