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

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

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.

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