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Image Entertainment presents
Lohengrin (1990)

"I was chosen to be your champion. Your love led me to you."
- Lohengrin (Placido Domingo)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 02, 2001

Stars: Placido Domingo, Robert Lloyd, Cheryl Studer, Hartmut Welker
Other Stars: Dunja Studer, Georg Tichy, Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Claudio Abbado, conductor
Director: Brian Large

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 03h:39m:09s
Release Date: May 01, 2001
UPC: 014381578621
Genre: opera

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- ADB- D-

DVD Review

Lohengrin (1847) is the first of a loosely-connected trilogy of Arthurian operas by Richard Wagner, two of which are focused primarily on love. Where the more mature Wagner treats illicit love in Tristan und Isolde, here in Lohengrin, he considers wedded love and trust. Although matters are not quite so tragic as in Tristan, wedded love doesn't come out looking too good, either.

The opera is set in early tenth-century Antwerp. Elsa of Brabant (Cheryl Studer) is accused of having murdered her brother, who has vanished completely. Her accuser, Frederick of Telramund (Hartmut Welker), demands of King Henry (Robert Lloyd) the right of trial by combat to prove his accusation. When none will stand as champion for Elsa, she prays for aid from God. As if in answer to her prayer, a knight in shining armor arrives in a boat pulled by a giant white swan, one of the most bizarre setpieces in all of opera. The nameless knight (Placido Domingo), whom we know is Lohengrin, takes Elsa's part and handily defeats Frederick. He then asks Elsa to marry him, on condition that she never inquire as to his name or origins. She promises, but almost immediately, Frederick and his sorceress wife, Ortrud (Dunja Vejzovic), conduct a whispering campaign to raise doubts to Elsa about what her husband-to-be might be hiding from her, and why she is not trusted as a wife. While the second act drags rather badly, it is to a certain extent necessary in order to plausibly set up Elsa's growing doubts about Lohengrin. This permits her actions to be seen in a much more favorable light than would be possible if the second act were shorter. In the concluding act, these machinations bear bitter fruit for all concerned.

It feels odd to see Domingo singing in German, but he does a very creditable job with the part. Unfortunately, it doesn't allow for a great deal of acting ability, being a rather stiff-necked part. He is, however, in excellent voice. Cheryl Studer as Elsa is not particularly interesting or charismatic, as the role demands. She does, however, have the extreme vocal range required for the part and she sings with gusto and sensitivity throughout. Welker and Vejzovic are outstanding as the villainous couple out to discredit Elsa. Particularly noteworthy is the beginning of Act II, where Frederick is bemoaning his defeat at the hands of Lohengrin, while Ortrud slowly convinces him that it was not the judgment of God, but evil magic, that thwarted him.

The beginning of the third act features the familiar Entry of the Guests and the Wedding March (Here Comes the Bride), both of which are performed with gusto by the Vienna State Opera Orchestra under the baton of Claudio Abbado. I found no fault whatsoever with the orchestra or the chorus. It's difficult to comment on the sets and the costumes, for as noted in the video review, they are scarcely visible here.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Unfortunately, the good performances are for naught because the video transfer renders them practically invisible. Badly underlit to begin with, the transfer suffers from continual background shimmers and constant movement. The picture is completely lacking in shadow detail or fine detail. Everything is either full-lit or enshrouded in complete darkness. While there are good black values, there is entirely too much of it. Expressions are illegible, and the many long shots result in a screen that is 90% black much of the time. This disc is an excellent argument for filming opera on a closed set, and not in front of a live audience, where the film must be inevitably compromised, as was done here.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Germanyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 and Dolby Surround tracks are hardly distinguishable, other than the much louder presentation on the 5.1 track. Bass is rather lacking on both, but not horribly so. The orchestra and vocals come from all speakers, resulting in an incoherent soundfield that offers no directionality. Lohengrin's first vocal, which is delivered facing the back of the stage, is barely audible at all, again underlining the poor decision to film a live performance. Between the awful video and the merely acceptable audio, this set of discs is a souped-up CD release.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 38 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: other
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:04m:56s

Extras Review: No extras are provided at all. Time for a DVD opera rant: Why on earth does Image persist in releasing opera discs which don't even have a synopsis included? Can it cost that much to have a copywriter slap a few paragraphs together to help the uninitiated make it through the plot? The presentation is so poor here that one needs to be quite familiar with the opera and have a libretto at hand in order to follow what on earth is going on. No guidance at all is provided as to who these characters are, or what their relationship is to one another, or indeed anything at all that might be of use to the viewer. Oh, and the default on the subtitles is annoyingly set to "off." An unhappy job all the way around.

Acts I and II are presented on one RSDL disc (the layer change is well-placed between the acts), and Act III is on a single layer disc by itself.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

A good performance is laid waste by a terrible video presentation. While the sound is generally decent, I can't, in good conscience, recommend this disc, especially in light of a complete lack of useful extras.


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