Lyric champions Wagner’s epic love story
|Lyric Opera of Chicago presents|
|Composed and Libretto by Richard Wagner
Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
Directed by Elijah Moshinsky
at Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive (map)
through March 8 | tickets: $33-$237 | more info
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
A man rescues a damsel from murder charges, promises to love her forever and wants to marry her. The only wrinkle? She must never ask his name, origin or lineage. Can she stay true to a nameless hero? Lyric Opera presents Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, an opera in three acts. Friedrich accuses his ex-girlfriend Elsa of dumping him for a secret lover. He also charges her with murdering her brother. The double attack is prompted by Friedrich and his wife Ortrud’s desire for the crown. In her defense, Elsa summons her champion to appear. She insists God is sending her a knight. Her prayers are answered when the hero sails in on a swan. The rescuer duels Friedrich and wins. As Elsa and the hero head towards a happily ever-after, Ortrud and Friedrich plot their revenge. Using pagan and female persuasion, Ortrud pokes holes in Elsa’s bubble of bliss. Elsa struggles with her ability to love unconditionally this hero without a name or a past. Wagner’s Lohengrin is an epic love story complicated by the unknown.
Under the masterful baton of Sir Andrew Davis, Lohengrin captivates from the overture to finale. The dreamy melodies tangled with hope and sadness leap into commanding forceful musical passages. With the curtain still down, the introduction transitions the audience from the real world to Wagner’s fantasy where ‘there is no remorse in happiness.’ In this production of Lohengrin, the scenery and the action is minimal. Instead, the stage is filled to capacity with the chorus adding to the rich tone of the score. Trumpeters flank the stage in a majestic nod to the nobility clash. Johan Botha (hero aka Lohengrin) is the man of mystery. Botha’s entrance is less than dramatic but as soon as he begins singing he imposes an authority on the proceedings. Botha radiates his simplistic love ideology. Emily Magee (Elsa) struggles with the whole ‘If I love you, why do you need to know my name?’ Magee amazes as she emotionally sings through a spectrum of feelings; desperation, joy, doubt. Her aria “Euch Luften” is sung with an earnest sincerity to help her accusers. Elsa’s bad guys are wickedly wonderful. Michaela Schuster (Ortrud) conjures up a (black) magical performance. Schuster aggressively delivers her evil intent with strong vocal stylings and distorted facial expressions. Her duet with Greer Grimsley (Friedrich) spellbinds with a naughty sensuality. Grimsley holds his own in the marriage of ambition with solid conviction from his first appearance. Lohengrin is all about loving and the music! Under Davis’ musical direction, the ensemble makes love with the music for the pleasure of the audience.
Lohengrin is four hours and thirty-five minutes long. However, this should not be daunting. First, the music flows with an entrancing beauty. The allure engages with timeless essences. Next, the Lyric starts the show 90-minutes before its traditional curtain time. Somehow, the time change makes for pretend shortness. Spying 9pm on your watch at the last intermission break leads to a this-isn’t-that-long illusion. To help with the early start, the Lyric is also selling pre-ordered box suppers for $15. For me, I had a late lunch and a Clif bar in case of emergency. I was fine. No food stash required.
For opera newbies, there are two prominent familiar tunes in Lohengrin. The more obvious melody is the bridal march. Reading the German translated words, the song becomes much more romantic than the cheesy ‘here comes the bride’ mainstream version. Wagner’s original libretto is sweet thoughts of hope and wishes for a pleasurable union. The other recognizable moment will be around a few haunting bars of notes repeated throughout the show in relation to the swan hero. Here’s the symmetry moment, you’ll identify it from Swan Lake and its recent resurgence in popularity with the movie “Black Swan”. On a post-show read around, I discovered that Lohengrin was first performed in 1850. A Wagner admirer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky premiered Swan Lake in 1877. I guess this swan song lives on in two masterpieces.
Lohengrin is an opera in three acts in German, with English titles by Francis Rizzo. Performances continue February 16th, 25th, March 1st, 5th, 8th at 6pm, February 20th at 1pm. Running Time: Four hours and thirty-five minutes includes two intermissions.
All photos by Dan Rest
3 WORDS: Having seen a Lohengrin production in Germany, John Blick describes it with ‘traditional, immense, powerful.’