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Andrew Quint
Fanfare, November 2009

I enthusiastically welcomed this 2006 performance back in Fanfare 30:5, and my regard for it has only increased since then. The Opus Arte DVD set made my 2007 Want List and I’ve returned with pleasure to stage director Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s view of Lohengrin many times. There’s no point in rehashing a detailed account of the joint Baden-Baden/Lyon/La Scala production—subscribers can go to the Fanfare online Archive—but I will reiterate that the cast is pretty much perfect. Solveig Kringelborn’s soprano is small, sad, and pure when we first meet her in act I; she becomes warmly womanly as she begins her ill-fated wedding night in act III. No one’s better at representing Wagner’s Bad Girls—Venus, Ortrud, and Kundry—than Waltraud Meier, who radiates a Haganesque malevolence at the outset of the second act. Tom Fox portrays a remarkably sympathetic and powerfully sung Telramund; Hans-Peter König is an authoritative yet immensely likable Heinrich. There’s even the luxury of a singer of Roman Trekel’s stature for the not-exactly-critical part of the King’s Herald. Topping off this stellar ensemble is Klaus Florian Vogt: his gleaming (but never steely) and yielding (but firmly supported) tenor is ideal for the title role. Kent Nagano conducts a youthful Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with élan and sensitivity. The chorus is outstanding.

The opera was shot live on high-definition film and, in my Want List entry, I wondered, “dare we hope for an HD DVD or Blu-ray release?” Two years later, here it is. Good as the DVD was, visually, the Blu-ray is an order of magnitude better. Watching the original release, one thought, “this is an awfully good-looking DVD.” Watching the Blu-ray is more like looking through a clean rectangular window into the actual event; the colors are richer and the amount of natural detail is amazing. (Maybe we get a little more detail than is strictly necessary—for instance, the spittle that issues forth from Roman Trekel’s mouth when he commands “Come forward!” in act I.) Sonically, the 5.1 surround program is in better-than-CD quality 48 kHz PCM. Off-stage instruments are convincingly distant and the relationship of the singers to the orchestra is equally realistic. The most complex passages—act I’s pre-sword-fight quintet with chorus, for instance—are exceptionally intelligible. Opus Arte gets the entire opera, plus the 68-minute Reiner E. Moritz documentary Never Shalt Thou Ask of Me onto two Blu-ray Discs, as opposed to three conventional DVDs for the original release. We get the same five subtitle languages, illustrated synopsis, and superfluous “cast gallery” as the DVD set. Should you unwrap a new Blu-ray player this holiday season, Opus Arte’s Lohengrin should be among your very first software acquisitions.

Nate Goss
Fulvue Drive-in, June 2009

Wagner’s Lohengrin performed at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden is a stunning performance of the three part opera, which runs a lengthy 279-minutes. The cast is lead by the title role Klaus Florian Vogt and Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s interpretation of Wagner’s powerful piece is engaging from open to close with a production that engrossing the viewer and stuns the listener from the beginning. We immediately know that we are experiencing something profound, something passionately performed in such a way that we cannot even turn away from it. Wagner’s score comes sweeping in and we are transcended into a new world altogether. The production here also serves as a great companion piece to the 3-disc SACD release under Semyon Bychkov and the Cologne Broadcasts, which are featured on the Profil label here.

The 3-disc SACD set showcases the talents of Kwangchul Youn (bass) as King Henry, Johan Botha (tenor) as Lohengrin, and Adrianne Pieczonka (soprano) as Elsa von Brabant, among a fine ensemble and the Prague Chamber Choir, the NDR Chorus, WDR Radio Choir Cologne, and the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne. It is evident that this special event was designed to be captured with the highest integrity of Wagner’s vision, which shines through on the SACD format with the Hybrid discs capable of playing a CD-layer, a DSD 2.0 layer, and a DSD 5.1 multi-channel layer.

Starting with the CD layer, it’s certainly a fine enough recording that the CD demonstrates this with fine levels of detail and scope, however, after doing an A/B comparison with the DSD 2.0 option, we see an extension of that scope to a new level in terms of realism in the instrumentation and the overall width of the soundstage feels far more open, transparent, and all the more engaging. As if this wasn’t enough to open the masterpiece to a new level in sonic cohesion, the DSD 5.1 mix takes that to another dimension as the soundstage now becomes more 3-D with a wider presence overall and the ambiance is now protruding into the room in such a way that the voices and instruments feel like they are spaced more like a live production.

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