For three decades, the Franco-Italian tenor Roberto Alagna has been rocking iconic Italian and French roles, from the “little nobody” Nemorino of Donizetti to the colossal Samson of Saint-Saëns. In a radical departure, he signed up to open the 2018 Bayreuth Festival—founded by and exclusively devoted to the canon of the arch German Richard Wagner—as Lohengrin, the White Knight who floats in on a boat drawn by a swan. With less than a month to go to the premiere, he pulled out, pleading insufficient time to learn the part, with its reams of text in an unfamiliar language. Two years later, he’s back on the case, opposite Sonya Yoncheva as the orphan falsely accused of her brother’s murder. Yoncheva is no Germanist either. Though seasoned Wagnerians, the other principals—René Pape as the king, Martin Ganter as the orphan’s bamboozled guardian, Ekaterina Gubanova as the witch who drives the plot—also cultivate the smooth vocal line that makes the music sing. And rightly so: let’s not forget that the composer idolized bel canto! Matthias Pintscher conducts what should be a very Italianate reading of the score. The new production is by Calixto Bieito, who specializes in deconstruction of a kind the revolutionary composer might have idolized less. —M.G.
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