Musically, Welsh National Opera’s new production of Wagner’s medieval romance is a triumph.
Under Lothar Koenigs’ direction the orchestra matched the heights reached in their marvellous Meistersinger. Sadly the staging isn’t as fine. The Grail music was exquisitely unearthly while brass fanfares resounded majestically.
The WNO Chorus was magnificent, rapt and hushed in the bridal chorus, floor-shaking in their acclamation for their new-found hero.
Wagner’s characters are more archetypes than Mozartian flesh-and-blood but Emma Bell made the improbably pure and naïve
Elsa’s actions convincing, with firm, radiant singing and graceful movement. Her knight in shining armour turned out to be a man in a Millets greatcoat but Peter Wedd still managed an other-worldly aura and although not a heldentenor his Grail narrative had a noble and heroic ring. Susan Bickley’s villainous Ortrud was impressive. There was excellent support from Simon Thorpe (Telramund), Matthew Best (King Henry) and Rhys Jenkins’ stentorian Herald.
Director and designer Antony McDonald transfers the setting from the ninth to the mid-nineteenth century and swaps pastoral for a grim urban look. Yeats’ poem The Circus Animals’ Desertion could be its subtext, where dreams and enchantment are grounded in the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart” – symbolised by Brabant’s church being next to the town rubbish dump. Given the directorial abominations foisted on Wagner – Bayreuth’s current Lohengrin is set in a rodent research laboratory – perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies.