Lohengrin:  Act II

Before we settle back into our wooden seats at the Festspielhaus, I would like to put a few things into perspective.

It has now been three months since the events I try to recall, and since the typewriter I was taking notes on disappeared into the pit, I am left with only my failing memory. When I tell you that I am somewhat absent-minded at times...on more than one Gala occasion (Lyric Opening Nights for example), I arrived dressed to the nines in suit and tie. There is nothing amiss in that, except that I was also still wearing the soap-on-a rope that had helped me achieve the perfect sudsing during my pre-Gala shower.

My mind, when attempting to go back in time to recount these adventures in Bayreuth, has often been pre-occupied. I am always wondering "where do those stray socks go in the dryer?" Any ideas? Do manufacturers deliberately make one of the socks from flimsy wool that disintegrates and ends up in the lint thingummybob, thus ensuring repeat business?

Since my return from Bayreuth I have been working in the real world, snatching an hour here and there to write about it. Although I carried a video camera to capture the week for posterity, I left it in the coatcheck each night and so the only way I had to remember the operas was to write about them upon my return.

Trips to Florida and most recently Las Vegas and Michigan have eaten into the time I have to finish up the Bayreuth reports so we can all get on with our lives.

The server which hosts this website has recently been down for upgrades and a move from Toronto to NYC, further delaying matters.

Back to the Festspielhaus........
Act II is a firm favorite of mine since I bought a laser disc of the Bayreuth production by Werner Herzog. It featured Ekkehard Wlaschiha, Cheryl Studer and this evening's Ortrud, Gabriele Schnaut.

The stage floor, the black volcanic ash, was apt for the creepy dark music of the prelude. To the left of the stage Schnaut sat forlornly on a chaise longue. At the right was the Telramund of Jean Phillipe Lafont, sitting at a small bistro table.

Between these two and further back from the apron was a large square platform, divided by a high wall. On either side of this wall sat Lohengrin and Elsa on dining room chairs. They were cast in shadow. Near the chaise a flickering flaming torch burned.

While I can stand to listen to Gabriele Schnaut's nasal voice, given the fact that she hits her notes (loudly!) and is a rivetting actress from the "Over-the-Top" school and doesn't sleepwalk through a performance, I was none too keen to hear the magnificent music given to Telramund being barked by Monsieur Lafont.

As I know the music and the text of this act note for note and word for word, I hit upon a cunning plan. I slithered from my seat on the pretext of having to visit the bathroom but once outside the door, stayed close enough to hear the voices. The door acted as a mute for Telramund's lines, but when it came Schnaut's turn to holler I would open the door and then close it before Lafont gave his rebuttal. This would have worked fine I imagine, but for the fact that each time I opened the door and let the foyer lights shine in, everyone in the audience turned to see who was coming in, including Mr Lafont. I was asked to return to my seat.

The chaise longue was there so that, as he listened to his wife forming a dastardly plan to unmask Lohengrin, the aroused Herr Telramund could clamber on top of his wife, who enfolded him with her legs until, unable to bear it any longer, I sloshed the last dregs of my Bourbon Old Fashioned over them thus bringing them to their senses. To the rescue came the haunting voice of Melanie Diener with her song to the breezes, given from the platform. Gabby delivered the goods in her pitiful lament of her sorrowful lot...." O, du bist glucklich! Nach Kurzem unschuldsussem Leiden...." I was in raptures.

While Elsa went to let Ortrud in, Ortrud dipped her hand into the flame leaping from the torch at the front of the stage and, with the flame now burning in her hand, she split the rafters with "Entweihte Gotter..." This flame she had to douse, deftly under the stage cloth, when Elsa reappeared. The ladies, reconciled, walked to the rear of the dimly lit stage where they separated and made their way independently to the wings.

As the distant off stage trumpets signalled the dawning of the wedding day, I was choked with emotion, fearing that soon my heart might burst and would probably ruin my shirt, which I had just unwrapped that morning.

The Bayreuth men's chorus assembled before me. They had been prepared by Norbert Balaatsch. Need I say more? They were singing music written by a great composer. Need I say more? They had bellies full of Wienerschnitzel and hopefully less beer than I had by that time and were wearing clean underwear, I imagine. They were ready to deliver. They unleashed a fury of splendid sound, the like of which I have not heard a chorus utter before. They are to choral groups what a BMW 7 series is to the world of personal transportation. I am not telling you anything you do not know already. While some of the vocal soloists in Bayreuth may be found wanting, the men and women of the chorus are of the very highest calibre. Night after night it was Norbert who received my lustiest applause.

There was a wedding in the offing and it featured some eye-popping staging.....

To be continued......

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