Opera Review by Willard Manus
Great music, weird story and even weirder production. That pretty much sums up Los Angeles Opera's recent presentation of Richard Wagner's LOHENGRIN. First performed in Germany in 1850, LOHENGRIN--the last opera Wagner wrote before his epic Ring cycle--tells the story of a knight in shining armor (in this production, a shiny prosthetic leg) who appears in Brabant to champion the cause of Elsa (Soile Isokoski), a noblewoman wrongly accused of fratricide by Count Friedrich (James Johnson). In traditional productions, Lohengrin arrives in a boat drawn by a white swan; in Los Angeles, however, he emerged from a medical tent on a WW I battlefield wearing a blood-stained bathrobe.
Lydia Steier is part of the recent generation of directors, such as Achim Freyer, Peter Sellars and Robert Wilson who believe that classic operas must be deconstructed for them to be made relevant for modern audiences. Thus Steier, an American based in Europe, has arbitrarily moved LOHENGRIN from the 10th century to the 20th. What Wagner's opera, which is based on Norse and Teutonic myths and is rooted in the Romanticism of the Middle Ages, has to do with the industrial slaughter of WW I is known only to the director, who even more mysteriously dressed King Heinrich (Kristinn Sigmundsson) in a Gilbert & Sullivan costume.

Only one thing to do when confronted with Lohengrin-like travesties: close your eyes and concentrate on the music and singing. The former was gloriously delivered by conductor James Conlon and his musicians, beginning with the orchestral coloring of the famous prelude and continuing with the ever-building, achingly moving score with its leitmotifs masterfully commenting on and supporting the action.

As for the singing, dramatic tenor Ben Heppner as Lohengrin got off to a somewhat rocky start, but gained in power and constancy as the night went on. Sigmundsson and Johnson were solid and compelling throughout, as was Eike Wilm Schulte as The King's Herald. The best voices, though, belonged to Isokoski and Dolora Zajick (as Telramund's slightly mad pagan wife).

Grant Gershon's LA Opera Chorus excelled as well, filling the Music Center with its massed and magnificent sound.