Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

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lennygoran
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Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by lennygoran » Thu Jul 26, 2018 6:21 am

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Review: Bayreuth’s First American Director Arrives With ‘Lohengrin’


By David Allen

July 26, 2018

BAYREUTH, Germany — In the 142 years since Richard Wagner made front-page news in New York with the first Bayreuth Festival, Americans have sung here, conducted here, made countless pilgrimages up a little green hill to sit, sweltering, in the temple that the composer built to his own art. But until now, no American had been entrusted with a production.

Yuval Sharon, 39, changed that brilliantly on Wednesday, opening this year’s festival with a “Lohengrin” that overcomes conceptual troubles with breathtaking visuals and enthralling musicality, under the guidance of the conductor Christian Thielemann.

Not, however, that this “Lohengrin” is entirely Mr. Sharon’s own. By the time he replaced Alvis Hermanis as the director, in 2016, the husband-and-wife artists Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy had been at work on the sets and costumes for several years. As an avowedly collaborative director, Mr. Sharon kept what he could. What the artists had imagined was a production with “no modern escapades,” as Mr. Rauch put it to the local press; this would be an attempt to re-enchant what so many have tried to deconstruct.

Swathed in deep blue — a fairy-tale hue that recalls Wieland Wagner’s postwar productions, and that Nietzsche heard in the Prelude — the action is backed by Mr. Rauch’s vast, mountainous landscape, and fronted, in Act II at least, by good old-fashioned scrims lit alluringly by Reinhard Traub. The view is seductive, dreamy and dark. The costumes riff abstractly on the Baroque portraits by the Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck.


Except for Lohengrin’s. The grail knight is seen here as an electrician who provides the spark in a land that has lost its power. He lands in a neo-Romanesque transformer station; his swan is an abstract flash of white; his sword is a lightning bolt. Although dressed in blue, the color he is associated with is a charged orange, too bright to be true. And so these New Leipzig School artists, as they often do, pose the old, the new, the supernatural and the modern in productive, ambivalent, veiling tension.

This does not really sound like the work of Mr. Sharon.

He is the closest thing that American opera has to a genuine avant-gardist. His “Hopscotch” drove audiences around Los Angeles in limousines, to scenes on top of a building or in a parking lot. His “Invisible Cities” mingled commuters with performers and listeners at Union Station. His “War of the Worlds” set an alien landing in and around Walt Disney Concert Hall. He has produced John Adams, Peter Eotvos and even Wagner in Europe, but he has never directed at a major American opera house. Instead, he formed his own, collaborative company, the Industry, and has worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra. All this, in a genuinely Wagnerian spirit, is an effort to find a 21st-century meaning for the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk — the total work of art.

True to form, Mr. Sharon’s ideas seem to be different from those of Mr. Rauch and Ms. Loy: more political, reading Wagner closely and against the grain. This is a story, in the director’s mind, not about Elsa’s tragic failure to keep her faith, but about Lohengrin’s unreasonable demands, about the hypocrisy of his — and, therefore, modernity’s — inability to live up to his own vision for society.

And who will make that hypocrisy clear, challenge it, overcome it? The women.

Mr. Sharon’s Elsa, then, liberates herself from bondage: first from imprisonment, with Lohengrin’s help, then from the impossible marriage her imprisons her in. She is tied up, arms outstretched and crossed, when we first see her, about to be burned at the stake for her faith in her electrical hero; she crosses her arms again in her bridal procession; in her bridal chamber, she wants to read the Bible, but Lohengrin, that charismatic, handsome, political figure, wants sex, and he’ll tie her up to get it by force.

Only by following the lead of Ortrud — here no wicked witch but a freethinking freedom fighter, as Mr. Sharon calls her — will Elsa free herself, by asking a question that the patriarchy bans. So Elsa does, and when the opera ends, she does not die but instead walks off into an unknown future, toting an orange backpack that Lohengrin has given her.

As that tiny touch suggests, Mr. Sharon seems to understand that feminist takes on Wagner often undercut their own message. Any attempt to make genuine feminists out of his heroines struggles, because they all, ultimately, serve Wagner’s own visions of femininity. As “Lohengrin” teaches us, no star should be followed without skepticism, Wagner himself above all. Elsa still needs Lohengrin to set her free.


Unfortunately, the political message is much too hidden to make its impact, so much so that the production’s Telramund, Tomasz Konieczny, publicly praised its outright conservatism in the press. Until Act III, the feminist critique remains subtle in the extreme; when it finally makes itself obvious, it creates not satisfaction but confusion, as two different artistic visions meet.

Our Elsa is Anja Harteros, who warmed up to make an impressive Bayreuth debut, but who remains an altogether too ethereal presence to make the message clear. Lohengrin, the outstanding Piotr Beczala, has little ethereal about him; his evocation of the Holy Grail, “In fernem Land,” fittingly comes off as a spiteful rant, especially as it is sung more choppily than one often hears it.

Ortrud, played with dominant presence by the incomparable Waltraud Meier, in her first appearance here in 18 years, is nearly burned at the stake, too, for her lack of faith in Lohengrin. But she also acquires freedom of a sort, inheriting the lands she has always coveted, albeit a Brabant in which everyone appears to have died. Gottfried, who usually inherits the kingdom, appears only as a man covered in green fur, to accompany Elsa on her journey.

There are mysteries left over, then, and perhaps that’s the way it should be: Mr. Sharon’s politics have not rubbed off his collaborators’ enchantment, nor has their enchantment wholly hidden his politics.

Still, it all hangs together. Like the rat-infested Hans Neuenfels staging it replaces, this “Lohengrin” offers tradition to traditionalists and a critique to progressives. Because it has something for everyone, one can imagine that, with a few tweaks, it might become just as admired.

No wonder there were barely any boos.




https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/arts ... eview.html

maestrob
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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by maestrob » Thu Jul 26, 2018 8:58 am

Very little about the singing, let alone Thielemann's conducting! Harteros makes her debut, and Meier makes her first appearance at Bayreuth in 18 years, and all this critic can do is spend a few lines on them? For shame! The entire review is about the production being non-offensive, yet it must be described in intimate detail!

It doesn't pay to be a great singer any more. :mrgreen:

jbuck919
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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jul 28, 2018 7:56 am

maestrob wrote:
Thu Jul 26, 2018 8:58 am
Very little about the singing, let alone Thielemann's conducting! Harteros makes her debut, and Meier makes her first appearance at Bayreuth in 18 years, and all this critic can do is spend a few lines on them? For shame! The entire review is about the production being non-offensive, yet it must be described in intimate detail!

It doesn't pay to be a great singer any more. :mrgreen:
There are many performances of the climactic scene on YouTube, but this one struck me, though I have never heard of the tenor.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

maestrob
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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by maestrob » Sat Jul 28, 2018 10:20 am

Thanks for that, JohnB. Beczala was a lyric tenor who started off singing Donizetti (Lucia) and similar roles in both Italian and French opera: I had no idea he had progressed to Wagner, as did Domingo in the 1980's, quite successfully, as it turns out. Lohengrin is the lightest lead role for tenor in the Wagner canon, and can be sung successfully by a lyric tenor on his way to heavier roles.

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jbuck919
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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jul 28, 2018 11:39 am

maestrob wrote:
Sat Jul 28, 2018 10:20 am
Thanks for that, JohnB. Beczala was a lyric tenor who started off singing Donizetti (Lucia) and similar roles in both Italian and French opera: I had no idea he had progressed to Wagner, as did Domingo in the 1980's, quite successfully, as it turns out. Lohengrin is the lightest lead role for tenor in the Wagner canon, and can be sung successfully by a lyric tenor on his way to heavier roles.

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Well, that would explain why in several places he pronounces double consonants as though he were singing Italian. Also, there is no glottal stop in überidischer. :)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

lennygoran
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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jul 28, 2018 3:17 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
Sat Jul 28, 2018 7:56 am

There are many performances of the climactic scene on YouTube, but this one struck me, though I have never heard of the tenor.
John we've heard him at the Met quite a few times-he's just wonderful! Regards, Len

lennygoran
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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by lennygoran » Sat Jul 28, 2018 3:43 pm

Here's another NY Times review on the opera. Regards, Len

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Bayreuth’s First American Director Made Wagner a Feminist. What Now?


By Joshua Barone

July 27, 2018

BAYREUTH, Germany — Articles about 19th-century operas typically don’t require spoiler alerts. This one does.

That’s because Wagner’s “Lohengrin” — as staged at the Bayreuth Festival here by the visionary Yuval Sharon, the first American director in the festival’s 142-year history — has a new ending.

In the ambiguous final scene of Mr. Sharon’s production, with sets and costumes by the artist couple Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy, the two lead female characters appear not only to survive, but thrive: liberated from patriarchy, and for the first time given complete agency. Lohengrin, a failed hero, leaves in shame. And the gullible people of Brabant, depicted as vaguely mothlike, are killed en masse by a single zap.

When the curtain came down at the premiere on Wednesday night, there “were barely any boos,” David Allen wrote in his review for The New York Times. But there were more than a few scratched heads as people struggled to make sense of what they had seen. On social media, people joked that Gottfried, a shining green presence that seemed more symbol-like than human, looked a little like Germany’s signature Ampelmännchen on traffic lights.

Mr. Sharon couldn’t be happier.

“All of these various ideas resonate with each other, or clash with each other, or sometimes don’t get told all the way to the end,” he said over lunch the day after the premiere. “I love things that aren’t closed, because then the audience has such power and freedom to discover things for themselves.”

He then invoked the Roland Barthes adage that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.” Mr. Sharon, 39, a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient and one of the most innovate directors working in opera today, tends to do things like that. His program notes for “Lohengrin” even use a Brecht poem, “In Praise of Doubt,” as an epigraph.


That poem in many ways holds the key to understanding this “Lohengrin,” which makes a feminist of Wagner by reading into the motives of its most oppressed characters: the women. In one stanza, Brecht writes:

The most beautiful of all doubts
Is when the downtrodden and despondent raise their heads and
Stop believing in the strength
Of their oppressors.

A traditional reading of “Lohengrin” would be that the villainous Ortrud plants the seed of doubt that makes Elsa ask the forbidden question of Lohengrin’s name and origin. In other words, curiosity kills the cat. But Mr. Sharon said he sees Ortrud as a sort of freedom fighter who liberates Elsa, while the moth people of Brabant blindly follow the light of Lohengrin’s charisma to their deaths.

This is just the latest dramaturgical feat by the Los Angeles-based Mr. Sharon — whose own opera company, the Industry, has in the past staged a single opera around the city, with limousines driving audience members from scene to scene, and put on a “War of the Worlds” both inside and outside Walt Disney Concert Hall. (He has yet to direct at a major American company like the Metropolitan Opera in New York.)


His “Lohengrin” is tame by comparison; after all, it was made for a traditional proscenium space designed by Wagner. Mr. Sharon has been relishing his time at the theater, whose acoustics are famously balanced and clear — like “you’re inside a cello,” he said. And he didn’t even know he was Bayreuth’s first American director until a reporter from The Times told him so last year.

In an emailed statement, Katharina Wagner, the composer’s great-granddaughter and one of the festival’s directors, said that Mr. Sharon has a convincing vision and “a deep understanding of Wagner’s works.”

“His feeling for nuances and fine gradations in the drawing of the characters on stage is very pronounced,” she wrote. “In addition, he is a passionate director and a distinctive team worker, the ‘sunshine’ of the whole team, as Christian Thielemann called him.” (Mr. Thielemann is the conductor.)

Not once did she and Mr. Sharon talk about his nationality.

“It was just never even a topic, somehow,” Mr. Sharon said. Now, though, “it feels like such a nice counterprogram to what is happening politically to our country.”

I asked what he meant. “When we see how our president reacts to Germany — even in the last week, treating Germany like an enemy, instead of a close ally — it to me feels very meaningful to come to Bayreuth,” he said, “and offer the

After discussing “Lohengrin,” we talked about what’s next at home in the United States and what other Wagner operas he might stage in the future. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How would you describe the state of opera in America?

What’s interesting in America now is that there’s such a thirst for new work, definitely more than when I first started working. That’s amazing, and I hope that continues, but I wish that American companies took a little more stock of what’s happening in Europe.

We also have a really difficult financial and social problem with opera that every company in America is struggling with. Some people think, then, that we have to do “Elixir of Love” in street clothes. I want to say: Well, why are you even doing “Elixir of Love”? It doesn’t speak to me at all. I guess some people like the music, but if you like the music, you can do it in concert. If you’re going to stage it, really give us a burning reason.

So you think there should always be a reason, no exception.

Oh, yeah. I don’t think you should ever treat it as a given, like, “Of course, we’re going to do ‘Carmen.’”

That’s the rep theater approach, though.

Right. But I think that’s an idea from a different time. I think in America, at least, there should always be a burning need. If it’s just to fill the seats, that seems to me like it’s not leading in the right direction. I don’t know; there are plenty of people on the business side …

This is your idealism coming out.

I still have that idealism. That’s why I started my own company. I’d like to offer an opposite approach to all of that, and with new work.

Because of that, how do you see yourself as part of a broader American landscape?

When I started the Industry, it was really about trying to enrich the operatic landscape with composers I thought companies wouldn’t give a chance to. We’re still a scrappy company, but I think we’ve found resonance on a larger scale. What that means for the opera field, I can’t say. I can have my wish for what it means. It’s not that everyone does operas in cars — that’s not the point — but maybe opera companies think beyond the proscenium. You can do exciting things in a proscenium theater, but the approach needs to be a little different. You just can’t do the same old thing.

What other Wagner operas are you eager to direct?

All the Wagner operas to me are real abysses: You can work on them forever. They sound a lot more modern than a lot of contemporary pieces. It feels like their time is still coming, somehow, not like history. I would do any of them, but I have an idea for “Meistersinger” that I would love to do, but I can’t tell you on the record. I’d love to do a “Ring” cycle one day. That’s like Mount Everest for a director, but I don’t think I’m doing it any time soon. To me it feels like an artistic goal. I’m almost 40 now. So, a “Ring” cycle in my 50s would be cool.





https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/27/arts ... haron.html

maestrob
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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by maestrob » Sun Jul 29, 2018 11:10 am

Oh my, as in "good grief!" I think I'll skip this one when it comes out on DVD. :mrgreen:

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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by Lance » Sun Jul 29, 2018 12:56 pm

Driving back from the south, I heard fabulous 1943 Met performance of Wagner's "Lohengrin" with Varnay, Melchior, and Thorborg, Leinsdorf conducting. All fabulous singers and it was a stunningly good recording given the age. Melchior was unbelievable. I wonder if that has ever been issued on CD?
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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by maestrob » Mon Jul 30, 2018 10:37 am

Lance wrote:
Sun Jul 29, 2018 12:56 pm
Driving back from the south, I heard fabulous 1943 Met performance of Wagner's "Lohengrin" with Varnay, Melchior, and Thorborg, Leinsdorf conducting. All fabulous singers and it was a stunningly good recording given the age. Melchior was unbelievable. I wonder if that has ever been issued on CD?
Hi Lance! Welcome back!

Yes, it has been issued on CD in 2013, but on amazon it's only available in downloads now.

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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by Lance » Mon Jul 30, 2018 10:59 am

Brian, thank you for this reminder. I forgot that I did, indeed, have it on CD: "Wagner at the Met" [all live, Sony Classical 42717, 25 CDs]. Sometimes the memory fails, but I was happy to find it when I did a "Lohengrin" search in my catalogue. It will soon get a replay.
Lance G. Hill
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When she started to play, Mr. Steinway came down and personally
rubbed his name off the piano. [Speaking about pianist &*$#@+#]

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Re: Bayreuth Lohengrin Review

Post by barney » Tue Jul 31, 2018 5:26 pm

I have that set too, Wagner at the Met. It is a real treasure trove. I'll look out that Lohengrin again.

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