Michael White’s classical news: Lohengrin; Anyone Can Whistle; Yuja Wang; Messiah

Thursday, 14th April — By Michael White

Lohengrin 2022 3

Lohengrin returns to the Royal Opera House next week

“GETTING into” Wagner is something that ranks curiously high on people’s cultural wish-lists, but it’s best done carefully. When asked, I always say avoid the heavy stuff – The Ring and Parsifal – and start with things more tunefully approachable like Lohengrin. So would-be Wagnerites take note: Lohengrin returns to the Royal Opera House next week in David Alden’s widely praised 2018 production, and is very much worth seeing.

On the approachability stakes, it still last four hours, but that’s with two intervals. And time slips past thanks to a gripping story about oppression, injustice, and the arrival of a mysteriously Messianic figure to sort things out.

The score, among so much else, offers you the Bridal Chorus that everyone used to have at their weddings before more contemporary alternatives intervened. And I should add that when the Messianic figure turns up, he’s riding on a swan. Don’t ask why (when the heroine does, it’s her downfall). Runs April 19 to May 14. roh.org.uk

If, like me, you worship at the shrine of Stephen Sondheim and collect his shows, you may just want to see the new Anyone Can Whistle at the Southwark Playhouse until May 7; but you’ll be faced with all the reasons why this early piece of his gets done so rarely. It’s a stinker: two great songs marooned within two hours of vacuous, absurdist tosh about freewheeling 60s liberation in small-town America. The Southwark cast propel themselves body and soul into the show, but fail to rescue it. And the direction is a mess. Collect the thing as an experience, but don’t hope to be engaged. southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

• The pianist Yuja Wang gets brickbats for her dominatrix frocks and showmanship, but look beyond all that and she’s the real deal: one of the most technically superb, compelling and exciting players in the world. I never fail to be amazed by her, and heartily commend her Festival Hall recital on April 20 which promises music by Beethoven and Nikolai Kaupustin, the late Russian master whose high-energy, jazz-inflected scores are raw material for excitement. southbankcentre.co.uk

For those who set their sights on higher things at Eastertide, there’s a grandly traditional Messiah from the Royal Choral Society at the Albert Hall, Good Friday: royalalberthall.com – But there’s also an extensive Easter Festival running at St Martin in the Fields, with settings of the Miserere by Allegri (the famous one, with sopranos soaring at dog-pitch altitude) and by James MacMillan (a latterday counterpart) on Holy Saturday. At the same venue on Easter Monday, in a joint venture with the London Handel Festival, there’s Handel’s rarely performed oratorio La Resurrezione. stmartin-in-the-fields.org

• And don’t forget that Easter provides no end of opportunities to hear great music performed liturgically, within the context of church services. All Hallows, Gospel Oak (which also boasts the most spectacular Easter Garden this side of the Vatican), has Mozart’s Coronation Mass, 11am Easter Sunday. St Mark’s, Regent’s Park, has the Vittoria Passion 1.30pm Good Friday. And Christ Church, Hampstead has a potentially interesting new cantata with orchestra (music Laurence Rosenthal, words John Goldsmith) for its Stations of the Cross, 7pm Good Friday. Music for the soul in every case.

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