Act III of Wagner's "Lohengrin." Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Lohengrin Features Innovative Staging By San Francisco Opera

Given the fact that global conflict is escalating of late, it should come as no surprise that producing an opera as bellicose as this Wagner masterpiece might be a concern.

Indeed, before the season’s first performance Matthew Shilvock, Tad and Dianne Taube General Director, took to the stage to make this statement:

We present Lohengrin at a very difficult time in the world, including the conflict in Israel and Gaza and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The drama of Lohengrin has inherently militaristic underpinnings, and that theme is explored more fully in this production. The personal journey of the protagonists takes place against a backdrop of a society undergoing a gradual militarization. As we present this story of a society pulled into militarized conflict, we reflect on the millions of people currently living through such a reality. And we hope that this production, even in a small way, contributes to the dialogue about how humanity breaks the cycle of war and finds a lasting peace.

After this somber warning, one might expect the production to be carefully circumspect as well, but – fortunately – all caution was thrown to the wind once the performance got underway.

This was best illustrated by the bold (and rather startling) use of the auditorium for two key scenes.

The first example of this was when Ortrud makes her “here’s to you” toast to Elsa in Act II. (Absolutely haunting).

Then comes the joyous Act III scene where Lohengrin and Elsa scamper down the aisles with members of the chorus to bring the bridal party in intimate contact with the audience.

Ferry riders might be disappointed, though, in not seeing the totemic swan in the production actually sail up to the stage to take our protagonist away.

What a waterborne journey that must have been.

Thanks to SFO’s state of the art “virtual” services, ferry riders may also stream this production while on their commute. The company’s web site also offers a great many podcasts and blogs well worth exploring.