Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Stepping Into the Spotlight

March 06, 2011

Amber Wagner Photo: Dan Rest

While in Chicago, I also caught Lyric Opera’s current production of Wagner’s Lohengrin, which has a final performance coming up on Tuesday. Despite it having some glowing reviews, I had some issues with the evening including Elijah Moshinsky’s incredibly dull and equally unattractive staging. But frankly, it was easy to put this aside for what seemed to me a major moment of arrival. That came in the form of one Amber Wagner who sang the role of Elsa and is scheduled to do so again on Tuesday. If you have any interest in the vocal arts and want to see tomorrow’s major Wagnerians today you better get over to the opera house in Chicago on Tuesday. Wagner, an American soprano who is no relation to the like-named composer, is undoubtedly the very real deal. She is likely best known to audiences as a winner of the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and was featured prominently in the documentary of that event, The Audition, which was screened in theaters nationwide and later made available on DVD. Following that success, she completed three seasons in the Lyric Opera Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center program singing a number of bit parts and understudying numerous roles. So her appearance as the billed starring artist in a leading Wagnerian role Saturday in a company well known to her was by all means widely anticipated. She succeeded magnificently and was solid throughout, her range easily keeping vocal pace with her costar, Johan Botha, and (dare I say it?) outdistancing other more experienced members of the cast. She was greeted at the curtain call with a riotous ovation from the crowd and the emotion of the moment clearly showed on her face and in the warm reception of her cast mates. And even if you miss her other Elsa performance this week, I wouldn’t worry too much. This is one soprano you’ll be hearing more of quite soon.

Act I of Lohengrin Photo: Dan Rest

Of course, Ms. Wanger wasn’t alone on stage. Mr. Botha is a quite respectable Lohengrin. His performance was a little dry for my taste, but there is no strain or pinch in his voice anywhere. He, like everyone, was hampered by a mighty unattractive Medieval costume that often got in the way of movement, and offered nothing more to the piece. The Ortrud was Michaela Schuster who was recently seen in this role in the Munich production from Richard Jones and now available on DVD. She had much less clutter and many fewer ideas to deal with on Moshinsky’s bare set except for a number of giant sled-mounted totem poles. I found her a bit harsh at times as I did seeing her live in Munich. Greer Grimsley was appropriately menacing as Friedrich of Telramund. Of course, this is Lohengrin, and as important as the principals are, this opera is nothing without the chorus and orchestra both of which were superb on this occasion. I sometimes wish that conductor and music director Sir Andrew Davis would have taken a little more time along the way to stop and smell some of the musical roses, but I can’t fault him for keeping things moving since there was relatively little going on in terms of visuals. The brass were nearly flawless throughout. So, even if you’ve already experienced this show, you may want to give the final performance another look, or more appropriately listen, since the musical values are excellent and Lyric Opera is busy offering one of tomorrow’s stars today.


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