Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lohengrin at La Scala – A Few Thoughts about Elsa and Gottfried

Like many in the cinema audience last weekend, I wished for a less twitchy Lohengrin, or at least a more clear explanation of why he is this way. It causes more confusion than clarity. It certainly is disturbing; of course, I’m sure that was deliberate on Guth’s part.

So, Elsa has suffered a rough childhood. Her brother mysteriously disappeared and she gets blamed for it. Does Gottfried even exist, or is he part of the fantasy? The younger versions of Gottfried and Elsa, seem to reinforce this question.  And of course she sees Gottfried many other times in the opera (she seems to be the only one who can see him.) She goes into her fantasy world and conjures up a savior who turns out to be a little more real and wilder than she expected.

Now, I am not sure you can get away with the “it was all a dream” scenario completely. The other characters are too well-developed and involved. And they all see, notice, and/or interact with Lohengrin. Having said that, I remember that Telramund also could see the young Elsa, playing the piano while Ortrud was weaseling her way into Elsa’s home. Both Lohengrin and Elsa scratch their left arm obsessively, right in the same spot Ortrud cuts herself (twice) creating a further connection among the three characters. (Guth seems to have an affinity for self cutting. Emma does it for no clear reason in Fierrabras.) Maybe Ortrud used to cut Elsa too. Hmmmm. No one said this was going to be easy.  

As noted in a previous post, the post-wedding celebration “seduction” scene (for lack of a better word), is exciting, engaging, and slightly awkward to watch. I like the way Elsa and Lohengrin entered across the second balcony, happy, frisky, and giggly, and tossing off their formal accessories. Elsa longs for an idealized “knight in shining armor” and this Lohengrin is definitely not what she had in mind. Yet, she seems fascinated and attracted, in a puppy-love kind of way. When it becomes clear that Lohengrin wants to do more than just hold hands, it gets too real for Elsa and she struggles for ways to stall him, finally asking the forbidden question. 

As I see it, even though others have an awareness of him, Lohengrin does not exist on his own. He is a product of Elsa’s need to escape her repressive life. He is a combination of white knight, swan, and brother Gottfried. In a previous post, I hypothesized about this relationship, and Elsa confirms this for me with her final line in the opera. She sings “My husband!” directly to Gottfried.  Lohengrin is completely forgotten.

The complete performance on YT has disappeared (oops, and reappeared) again. If it comes to a cinema near you, go see it. And keep fingers crossed for the DVD/Blu-ray. It’s a fascinating production that is both wonderfully sung and played, and lovely to look at.

Here (again, for now) is the full opera.


  1. Didn't notice the all scratching at the same place , still not convinced it carries a message. I thought that it was clear that Where Lohengrin comes from, and goes back to, is a kind of catatonic, autistic state - after all, isn't the grail meant for pure idiots? The miracle is indeed that he awakes. And the production also made it clear that he having blood on his hands is the real deal breaker, more so than the sheer question itself. Which, again, makes sense. And I think rape, in that case, is a better word than seduction. Lohengrin is inherently difficult to stage: I thought this production did a really good job.

    1. Good points all. Lohengrin IS super aggressive in that wedding night scene. I think Guth did a great job, and I love this production/performance. Thanks for reading the column and responding!

  2. Yeah, I don't like that Lohengrin fellow. Smart directors like Guth find him excuses. He's bad news: leaves the people in disarray, humiliates the lady and leaves her dead, demands unconditional love and discretion, bewitched the people and beheaded the army after having war mungered...

    1. Yes, and this Elsa is so broken that she buys in to whatever might help her escape from Telramund and Ortrud. If she were smarter, she'd have gone after King Heinrich! But this Lohengrin is wounded and Elsa seems to treat him like a lost puppy. Hey, Gottfried has that wing on his left arm....more left arm imagery!


Comments are very welcome! They won't be moderated; but rude, abusive, and/or radically off-topic posts will be removed.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...