When Robert Wilson’s controversial production of Lohengrin returned on the third night of the new season, Plácido Domingo was nowhere to be seen, although the title role has been one of his most congenial late-career excursions into the Wagner repertory. But then, I didn’t expect to see Wilson, either, since during curtain calls last season the audience greeted him with cries of rage. This time, when the designer-director tentatively stepped out for a bow expecting God-knows-what, he was cheered to the skies: Go figure. Wilson’s familiar trademarks – geometric imagery, traveling shafts of light, rigidly stylized body movements – are not exactly the latest thing, but now that Met audiences have finally caught up with this aging avant-gardist, they have apparently decided that he is a genius after all.
It could also be that a Lohengrin of superb musical quality had put everyone in a good mood. James Levine’s orchestra gleamed and sang in every measure, Ben Heppner’s bel canto Lohengrin indicated that a month of Tristans in Seattle this summer has done him no harm, and Karita Mattila is so vocally radiant and expressively urgent that one would like to see her Elsa when it is not trapped in a director’s concept. Only an occasional squall marred Deborah Polaski’s fearsome Ortrud, Falk Struckmann delivered Telramund’s in-your-face challenges with ease, and René Pape’s sonorous bass made King Henry’s edicts actually sound interesting. With this distinguished Lohengrin, the Met season really began.