Your humble commentator is not a music, movie or opera critic. But…I had to comment when I dropped about a thousand bucks for my beautiful date and front row seats at the latest San Francisco Opera production of Wagner’s Lohengrin. My poor lovely companion missed the Second Act due to illness brought on by wokeness run amuck. For those who are not aware of the length of a Wagner opera – this one being one of his shorter productions – was only 4 and half hours with two Intermissions. She sipped Champagne and nibbled on a cheese plate while I went back alone and powered through the Second Act. Joining her for the second Intermission, I sipped water, nibbled on a grape and talked her into seeing the last act with the famous “Here comes the bride” tune. Although it was a little less nausea inducing than the first two Acts, she still was nearly brought to tears with disgust. I, on the other hand, am not as sensitive to bad craftsmanship – that being the set, costumes and direction were hideous – the music was still magnificent and the voices more than adequate. The following day my lovely sent me a copy of a recent review and of course, not knowing any better I actually made a comment. To date, it’s the only one on this web site. The Opera House was not packed but it had a pretty sizeable audience. Despite the issues I listed below, I’ll let you know that I was the first person to stand and clap for the performers and musicians and conductor. Also, I was getting a few weggies from sitting on my bony backside for over 4 hours…Here’s my review – and the original review link on line:
Let’s start with the good – the Eun Sun Kim SF Opera orchestra and her conducting was fantastic. The Leads were all quite capable singers and the Chorus was moving. Now the bad. Which is the entire staging and costumes. I know there’s a budget issue with Opera productions, but did they really have to get these 30s/40’s era clothes and hats from the local Good Will? I wonder if the choice for the time period chosen had more to do with the cost to clothe the Chorus rather than the Nazi angle? And what’s with rifles and Nazi helmets and swan emblems that are supposed to be a modern version of the Holy Grail myth? Look, I get that our modern sensibilities are not necessarily attuned to the myths of the medieval era – the story of Percival and the Christian, yes, Christian Holy Grail given our non religious secular world, but I fear this production went a tad too far. Like over the cliff too far. Before the performance I suffered through, Shilvock, with mic in hand, slightly shaking either from nervousness or the content of his words, warned us all of the imagery that may upset some who see the similarity to the wars now exploding in Ukraine and Israel. But let’s get real. So many of the scenes were so badly directed that I found myself stifling a laugh rather that being terrified at the sight of jokers in oversized Nazi helmets and 1930 football pads for armor.
And the time that poor obese Lohengrin bent over to pick up Elsa’s dress and mooned the audience. Could not contain myself. Then the equally rotund Elsa with boobs pointing upward to the sky lies backward on the bed head, uncomfortably looking upside down at the audience over the foot rail and my hand went to my mouth to prevent an outright horse laugh from coming out! To refresh my memory about the real story behind the Grail, I did not go to Wiki aka Joke a Pedia – I went to old school Britannica on line: “From Holy Grail, also called Grail, object sought by the knights of Arthurian legend as part of a quest that, particularly from the 13th century, had Christian meaning. The term grail evidently denoted a wide-mouthed or shallow vessel, though its precise etymology remains uncertain.”
When I read the review here all I could think to myself is: Where’s Rex Reed when you need him? But our gal did have one rather astute observation – in an otherwise laughable assessment: “But it’s not clear where the militarism is coming from or what this really has to do with the libretto.” And that my friends is why the whole exercise is so absurd. The bent building in Act 1. The seduced former hero warrior busting through the backdrop was at one point nausea inducing and at the same time comedic – and I really don’t like to be forced to laugh when someone is being killed – even if it is just a play. Just for fun and to compare a different production of Lohengrin, I decided to watch a YouTube 1990 Lohengrin from Vienna beautifully staged with Placido as the lead. One is breath taking, beautifully acted and produced. This one – Well, as I said, the music and singing is timeless. The rest of this production. Not so much.