Lohengrin in Copenhagen
This Sunday I went to the premiere of Wagner’s Lohengrin. The production was by Peter Konwitschny and his team and has been to Munich and Hamburg before it finally (after 9 years!) hit The Royal Danish Opera.
In this staging you can forget about knights in armour and damsels in distress, all characters are children (performed by adult singers of course) and the story takes place in a classroom. Instead of real swords they play war with wooden swords and wet blackboard sponges and Elsa is hiding in the closet to avoid more teasing.
This change of time and place only makes sense if you either accept the premise that the children are playing adults in a never ending lunch break and that’s why they speak about war and territories or if you leave your rationality behind and just focus on the development of the characters. I did both, and it totally worked for me (I should perhaps add that I have never seen Lohengrin before and that I had no particular ideas about how the piece should be performed).
As I see the story it is connected with the tale of Cupid and Psyche (the idea that the girl must not know who her lover is – which you can also find in innumerable folk tales). Elsa dreams about the knight that will rescue her and Lohengrin crosses the world to reach her. Just like Psyche can only feel her lover and not see him (and she is left alone at day – I would call that dreaming…) and just as Cupid descends from Mount Olympus to collect Psyche from the world of the humans.
The story is a myth of the Fall, and Konwitschny highlights this by using the children’s sphere and letting Lohengrin be the only adult. Lohengrin uses a real sword, he kills for real and he wants more than kisses from Elsa.
Couldn’t she just relax, forget about the freakin’ name and indulge in some sweet looove?
Unlike Cupid and Psyche this story has no true happy ending not even after all the toils. Lohengrin leaves Elsa for good and all she is left with is her brother, both of them having faced adulthood and forced to say good bye to Paradise.
In this staging there never was any real Paradise. The children are fickle and treat each other roughly. Having such a childhood makes it hard to create a peaceful adulthood and Konwitschny lets this shine through by giving the brother a helmet and a machine gun at his return. The point being that the seeds of war and conflict are planted in childhood, that children copy adults and will act accordingly. Plus of course that what you give is what you get. Very sad points but I believe them to be true.
My admiration for this man is uncurbed. Peter Konwitschny adds meaning and importance to a rather motley story about a maiden unjustly accused of murder, rescued by an unknown knight of the Grail who leaves her as soon as she asks him his name. Konwitschny makes me think about the nature of conflict and how conflict is omnipresent and must be controlled and fought against on all levels.
The singers were good and very good.
Stig Fogh Andersen, one of the stars in the Copenhagen Ring cycle, did well as Lohengrin although we had to wait until the last act to hear him perform his utmost and most brilliant. He acted convincingly as always.
Ann Petersen as Elsa was a new Wagner experience for me. I have seen her in The Turn of the Screw (Britten) and that was magnificent but one thing is a chamber opera quite another is a 4 hour Wagner performance, but she did equally well. Her voice is warm and secure and especially her height is beautiful. In my ears she never grew tired which is an important merit when singing Wagner. Her acting was very good as well, I totally believed her portrait of an adolescent who due to her nicety was an easy victim of bullying.
Such a good girl… Notice how Ortrud is ready to sharpen her pencil just over Telramund’s head!
Susanne Resmark played the part as the bully Ortrud to perfection, changing between pure evil and mean comedy. Her voice is suited for Wagner, and she did very well on this occasion.
Ortrud decides to kill the fun.
Kjeld Christoffersen as Telramund made a good impression and so did Per Høyer as the Herold and Sten Byriel as King Heinrich. As for the last I have heard him doing better even though this was more than ok. He is one of my favourite singers in the ensemble.
The chorus is a very important part of Lohengrin, and they did great both as singers and actors. I look forward to seeing the opera again as to grasp even more of the acting details since so much was going on.
The orchestra and Friedemann Layer played beautifully, and I also look forward to study their details more extensively.