São Paulo has been called the no.1 destination in South America for classical music, mainly for its compelling symphonic orchestra (the OSESP) and its home theatre (the Sala São Paulo). Things, however, are not up to the same levels in the opera house. I saw a complete opera in the Theatro Municipal just once in my life, more than 10 years ago – and it happened to be Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The performance was nothing to be ashamed of, and it was my first encounter with Albert Dohmen, who happened to be Wolfram then. The present series of performance can boast an even more impressive cast (I’m speaking of the “premium” cast, since I was not able to see more than one evening). And singers are the redeeming feature of today’s experience.
Marion Ammann is an exemplary Elsa in terms of style, musicianship and good taste. Her creamy soprano has its instable and hooty moments, but it is mostly easy on the ear, especially in soaring mezza voce. She was aptly contrasted with the provocative Ortrud from Marianne Cornetti. Hers was an Italianate approach to the role – keen on legato, powerful in top notes, varied in tone coloring and distinctively mezzo-ish in quality. Her second act was entirely built in seduction, subtlety and intelligence. In proper circumstances, she could have offered something truly memorable. Here let’s say that it was highly commendable that – having to guess the conductor’s beat – she was able to find leeway to develop an interpretation. Tomislav Muzek was a light, firm-toned Lohengrin, with a natural tenor quality and ardent phrasing. Extremes of dynamics did not come very easily to him, but the spontaneity was more than compensation. I’ve seen Tomas Tomasson’s Telramund in Bayreuth, unfortunately not in a good day. This time we were luckier – he was in incisive voice and only showed sign of fatigue by the end of act II. He and Marianne Cornetti established a winning partnership that rescued the whole performance of its emptiness. In spite of Luiz-Ottavio Faria’s nobility of tone and volume, his King Henry could not go beyond the lack of focus and wooliness. Carlos Eduardo Marcos’s Herald too had its throaty moments.
I am afraid that there is nothing positive to report other than that. John Neschling conducted a score notorious for its sameness of tempo as squarely as possible. This was made more evident by the blatant imbalance in his orchestra: a piercing brass section saturating a sound picture with strings as good as inexistent. Woodwind were not terribly expressive either. Then there was a colossal problem of synchronicity, most seriously in what involved soloists. By the first 15 minutes it was clear that the performance was scandalously under-rehearsed. Elsa was often ahead the beat, Lohengrin would constantly look hopeless trying to figure out where he was, Ortrud and Telramund mostly conducted themselves (and proved to be more efficient than the maestro in charge, for that matter). Ensembles were often everyone-doing-their-thing. To make things more “interesting”, the chorus was short of disastrous: tenors could not produce mezza voce to save their lives (in this of all operas), sopranos produced some funny sounds and I have never heard the altos as constantly as this evening.
I first thought that Henning Brockhaus’s production was amateurish, but curiously he seems to be a professional stage director. Hmm… The first scene had the men from the chorus playing billiards, some “dancers” contorting themselves standing on chairs and people acting like zombies. Then Lohengrin appears, the swan is a grey box with feathers stuck on a black fabric. There is a curtain of brass instruments to show that Lohengrin represents a dimension of beauty and transcendence. It is replaced by a curtain of knives for the duel. Characters enter from wrong places, exit through nonsensical spots (Elsa invites Ortrud in, but they take different directions; the grey box is supposed to be the swan, but Gottfried – here a piece of marble – appears in the opposite side of the stage), cast and chorus are required to squat and lie on the floor 80% of the time… Fremdscham is the bottomline here. Wagner deserved better.