Bayreuth Festival 2019
This production of Wagner’s Lohengrin by Yuval Sharon – born in Chicago in 1979 to Israeli parents and Bayreuth’s first American director – first saw the light of day at last year’s Bayreuth Festival. An electrically-charged production, Mr Sharon teamed up with the celebrated husband-and-wife team of Neo Rauch (set designer) and Rosa Loy (costume designer) who delivered a brilliant set mainly centred upon an electric power generating plant and with Reinhard Traub’s shrouded-blue lighting scenario (a colour favoured by Wagner) it offers a romantic view to the overall staging.
The actual story of Lohengrin relates to such well-loved German legendary fairy-tales belonging to the ‘Knight of the Swan’. Therefore, the Good is represented by Lohengrin and Elsa of Brabant and the Bad by Ortrud and Frederick of Telramund. A nod was given to the fairy-tale element as the central characters were adorned with diaphanous wings but here represented by flying insects – and like all insects, attracted to the light.
Not looking princely whatsoever, Lohengrin (sung by Polish tenor, Piotr Beczala) turned out to be a maintenance electrician kitted out in a light-blue uniform arriving not as a knight-in-shining armour in a grand and ceremonial way but landing on top of the generating plant by means of a silver-coloured drone. He was, in fact, announced by a streak of white lightning and seen through the clock-face of the plant’s tower with the hands modelled in the style of flash lightning mirroring his sword.
The love of his life, Elsa – admirably sung and acted by German soprano, Annette Dasch – is the poor victim of an intrigue by Count Telramund and his hateful wife-cum-witch Ortrud being dragged to the stake by a couple of Satanists for her Christian beliefs. Following her famous aria, ‘Elsa’s Dream’, describing the handsome young knight who comes to her aid, that moment of absolute glory came in the best tradition of Flash Gordon and her unknown Electrical Hero arrives in the nick of time to save her in an amazing white neon-flashing light sequence.
The central thrust of Act II focuses on the disgraced couple, Telramund and Ortrud, forcibly arguing the toss with one another over Elsa which found Polish tenor Tomasz Konieczny and Russian soprano Elena Pankratova on top form.
The turbine hall of Neo Rauch’s creation fitted the bridal procession scenario to a tee with the groom gracefully adorned with a silver-coated breastplate and a pair of long thin wings (biting nasty insect or pretty dragonfly?) while Ortrud was adding poison to Elsa’s dilemma at every conceivable turn.
Just as Lohengrin came to Elsa’s aid in a shaft of burning light saving her from the stake, the situation’s reversed on her wedding night as in the confines of an awfully-bright orange-coloured wedding chamber, she becomes his captive. Asking too many questions, the Silent Stranger acts forcibly and sadistically towards her by employing the fetish of bondage tying her to a mast with a piece of electric cord in a flush of passion and sexual excitement.
Eventually, the mast gives way to a sudden burst of electrical energy and by this action, freeing her from captivity, she re-emerges as a self-determined, confident young woman brightly dressed in a smart two-piece orange-coloured suit exercising modern-day women power by dumping Lohengrin fair and square. The end of her dream! The end of his torture!
In a twist to the traditional plot, Elsa and Ortrud are spared their lives whilst everyone else drop like flies – the strong women survive to develop a brand-new order.
- Music by Richard Wagner
- Director: Yuval Sharon
- Conductor: Christian Thielemann
- Chorus-master: Eberhard Friedrich (Bayreuth Festival Chorus)
- Cast includes: Piotr Beczała, Annette Dasch, Tomasz Konieczny, Elena Pankratova, Egils Silins, Georg Zeppenfeld
- Set designer: Neo Rauch Costume designer: Rosa Loy
- Bayreuth Festival