It's a measure of the Bavarian State Opera's status and artistic prowess that its revivals never seem routine and can be as headline-grabbing as its new productions. In the same week that Christian Gerhaher sang his first Munich Wozzeck in Andreas Kriegenburg's much-admired and visceral production, the house put together an impressive cast for the latest revival of Richard Jones' 2009 staging of Lohengrin. The production's original swan knight, Jonas Kaufmann, was occupied elsewhere in the same house, but the very different tenor of Klaus Florian Vogt fulfilled the role this time round. His flutey, almost countertenor-like timbre is an acquired taste, but after many years of singing a part with which he has almost become synonymous there's ease and authority. There's also more steel to his voice these days, even if there's not a great deal of subtlety between the extremes of stentorian and sotto voce. Opposite him was one of our day's most accomplished Elsas, Munich favourite Anja Harteros. She took a little time to get into her stride, with her singing in Act 1 lacking some of the opulence for which she is renowned, but in a way her gradual attainment of vocal richness matched the production's portrayal of her character's growth to maturity.

Karita Mattila (Ortrud) and Anja Harteros (Elsa) © Wilfried Hösl
Karita Mattila (Ortrud) and Anja Harteros (Elsa)
© Wilfried Hösl

Harteros won the 1999 Cardiff Singer of the World, a successor to Elsa's nemesis in this revival, Karita Mattila, the competition's very first winner, here making her role debut as Ortrud. It doesn't seem that long ago since Mattila was singing the role of Elsa herself, but she is now at the stage in her career where she is transitioning from romantic leads to what have traditionally been mezzo-soprano roles – often, as here, characters in dramatic opposition to those she has previously sung in the same opera. Her Ortrud had real fervour, her interactions with her husband Telramund tellingly Lady Macbeth-like and her persuasiveness with Elsa full of guile. Vocally, the role seemed a good fit and bodes well for her Covent Garden Kostelnička in Jenůfa in the spring (another opera whose title role has been hers). Less convincing was Wolfgang Koch's Telramund, which although consummately sung lacked something of the character's sheer malevolence – perhaps one has become too accustomed to his sympathetic portrayals of flawed heroes such as Barak and Hans Sachs to see him as a villain, even though his acting, especially after Telramund's banishing, was gripping. Christof Fischesser was a commanding Heinrich der Vogler, and Martin Gantner sang the Herald with an authoritarian air.

Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) and Karita Mattila (Ortrud) © Wilfried Hösl
Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) and Karita Mattila (Ortrud)
© Wilfried Hösl

The enlarged Staatsoper chorus made an impressive sound, even if there were times when coordination went a little awry, probably down to variable sightlines across the building-site of a set. Lothar Koenigs, conducting a work he led to great acclaim during his time as music director of Welsh National Opera, is known for his meticulous rehearsals and preparation, so although he has conducted it in Munich on previous occasions, the limited time given to revivals must always be a challenge. And there were moments when the magnificent Bayerisches Staatsorchester fragmented a little, but all was forgiven in Koenigs's surging sense of drama and in the overwhelming power of the climaxes, at their most impressive with the surround-sound brass choirs during the Act 3 transition.

Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) and Anja Harteros (Elsa) © Wilfried Hösl
Klaus Florian Vogt (Lohengrin) and Anja Harteros (Elsa)
© Wilfried Hösl

As for Richard Jones' production, it was difficult to know what to make of his concept, which sees Elsa and her chums build her marital home, as if brick by brick, on the stage before our eyes. It is also unclear what the milieu is meant to be, with characters in various uniforms that could suggest an academy of some sort, yet with Lohengrin turning up in T-Shirt and sweatpants. Some convincing interaction of characters and the odd witty aside apart – a video camera recording the as then unnamed Lohengrin signing the marriage register with a tick – the production perhaps remains most memorable for feeling like an advertisement for the efficiency of Germany's pre-fabricated house-building trade; one can almost imagine the strapline: 'We can build you a home in the time it takes to see a Wagner opera.'


****1