“I’ve had so many wonderful experiences with Lohengrin,” recounts Klaus Florian Vogt as we meet during rehearsals at the Royal Opera House. Lohengrin is, without doubt, the German tenor’s signature role which has brought him to the most prestigious opera houses in the world. For David Alden’s new production of Richard Wagner’s romantic opera, Vogt finally returns – after Alwa in Lulu in 2009 – to the stage of Covent Garden.

Klaus Florian Vogt in rehearsal for <i>Lohengrin</i> © ROH | Clive Barda
Klaus Florian Vogt in rehearsal for Lohengrin
© ROH | Clive Barda

He started his musical career as a French horn player with the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, but his drive for an artistic challenge and a solo career led to further vocal studies. After Tamino in Die Zauberflöte and less known, more dramatic repertoire like Zemlinsky’s Es war einmal, Vogt approached Wagner and his 2002 role debut as Lohengrin at the Theater Erfurt, finally marking his Heldentenor breakthrough. “I was very lucky that I was offered my first Lohengrin after only four years and they were good circumstances. I had a good conductor, a relatively conventional production and great colleagues. It simply was a very good arrangement and I immediately knew that Wagner suited me and that it appealed to me.”

Vogt’s timbre and lyrical voice predestined him for Lohengrin, but he can also bring his own personality to other Wagner roles. But why do these roles stand out for Vogt? What is it that makes Wagner such a fascination? “The difficulty of the roles appealed to me and the fact that they are all Helden... and it still does. Furthermore, Wagner’s music has an incredible depth. It never exhausts itself, you can always discover new colours, new ways of expressing yourself. It’s the same for his characters. You can shine a light on them from so many different angles that it never gets boring trying them. Although I’ve sung Lohengrin so many times, I always find new colours and that’s the beauty of music.”

Over the years, Vogt has collected quite a few memories of Lohengrin productions, a special one in Bayreuth with Hans Neuenfels which he describes  as “very important and wonderful.” And it was this Bayreuth Lohengrin that saw Vogt and Andris Nelsons, who will conduct in London as well, work together for the first time. “Back then, I had to step in [for Jonas Kaufmann, who fell sick], basically without a rehearsal. So we didn’t really meet until the performance and it immediately worked out. We understood each other without words from the beginning. I think it’s because Andris’ approach to music comes from his heart, from an emotional side, and that’s very much the way I see music. Music has to move you and it has a lot to do with intuition and how various factors work together. Like me, Andris trusts that music happens in the moment and that you can’t plan it. That’s the beauty of it and what makes it an adventure. You never know what happens in this specific moment or evening.”

Jennifer Davis (Elsa) and Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) in David Alden's production © ROH | Clive Barda
Jennifer Davis (Elsa) and Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) in David Alden's production
© ROH | Clive Barda

Especially for modern stagings, it’s important to Vogt that the director depicts the characters truthfully. “Sometimes there are specific traits which I don’t think apply to his character. As a singer you have to be convincing and you have to feel it, otherwise it wouldn’t be credible. In this respect, there comes the point where you have to discuss and agree on it [with the director].” However, this shouldn’t be a problem with David Alden. “The collaboration is great fun. Generally, it is an incredibly nice team and we’re all very focused. I’m confident that Lohengrin’s story will be told.”

His Elsa is the young Irish soprano Jennifer Davis, who stepped in for Kristine Opolais. As a former member of the ROH’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, she impressed the London audience over the past two years and, according to Vogt, she will do so again as Elsa. “She is superbly prepared and I feel we meet at eye level,” he tells me enthusiastically. “It’s important that we both find a place where we feel comfortable. As an experienced singer I don’t have to help her with that, she knows that on her own.”

Lohengrin is a mysterious character and although Vogt has answered many questions for himself, there are still new ones emerging. “For me, Lohengrin is a “from the ground up” honest guy who has a big awareness and love for justice. He expects a certain trust, one you don’t have to agree on – either there is a foundation of trust or not. That’s why the tragedy is so great, because he becomes so disappointed in this relationship and because he realises that the world is different from the world he wished for or knew. But where does he come from? Does he know what to expect? Was he sent by someone? Did he get any instructions? Is it the first time he is entrusted with such a mission? Every time, you try to answer these questions during the the rehearsal and production work. And that’s a process that simply needs some time.”

David Alden's <i>Lohengrin</i> © ROH | Clive Barda
David Alden's Lohengrin
© ROH | Clive Barda

“There are incredibly complex, and therefore always new, answers and challenges,” explains Vogt. “One director might see the character completely differently or another one might want to emphasise a specific trait. In that respect, the colours of such a character are constantly changing and that’s what makes it interesting. And you take that with you to your next production.”

You can see and feel Vogt’s enthusiasm for Wagner – especially for Lohengrin – and even after many years and many productions, it still hasn’t faded. “It immediately starts with the first notes and draws through the entire piece. Of course, I’m heading for the Gralserzählung, one of the highlights. But I’m tempted to say that I love all parts, all phrases with their different challenges and try to fulfil my own visions.”

Siegmund, Stolzing, Parsifal, Tannhäuser – Lohengrin is far from being Vogt’s only Wagner role and he knows exactly when it’s time to tackle the next one. “Of course they all complement each other. You can take colours and views from different characters and use them for Lohengrin. My voice tells me when it’s time. That’s why I’ve waited, for example, so long with Tannhäuser and I think it was the right time. Now, I think I can even go a step further.” I immediately think of Siegfried or Tristan. “For me, The Ring is absolutely fascinating, and the challenges are especially big for a horn player. Initially, my focus was on Siegmund who I’ve already played on stage many times. Now my thoughts follow a different direction towards Siegfried. And, of course, Tristan.”

The interview was conducted in German and subsequently translated into English by Elisabeth Schwarz.