Saturday, February 16, 2013

Maybe it WAS all a Dream – Elsa, Ortrud, and Gottfried

Before I enter my 12-step Lohengrin detox program, I have one (or two) more thought(s) and a theory to share about the La Scala Lohengrin.

Some productions of this opera are about Lohengrin; some are about Elsa; and some are about the people of Brabant. But, like the Bayreuth rat version, Guth’s Lohengrin for La Scala is mostly about Ortrud’s quest for power.

The first characters we see on stage are Ortrud, Elsa, and Gottfried (represented by his boot and jacket.) Ortrud appears near the end of the Prelude, carrying the boot and jacket. She turns over the boot and pours water out of it. She hands Elsa the jacket, and Elsa, believing her brother has drowned, collapses in a silent scream.

Everything that happens after this moment (or so goes my theory) is Elsa coming to terms with Gottfried’s death. Ortrud has killed or transformed Gottfried and framed Elsa for his death in order to gain control of Brabant. Elsa may actually believe she did kill Gottfried, and this along with other emotional and physical abuses she has suffered at the hands of Ortrud (and possibly others) sends her over the edge. She dreams that she is accused, and that the knight of her dreams arrives to defend her. This knight bears a striking resemblance to Gottfried (who probably protected her when he was alive). 

When Lohengrin arrives, he is carrying a boot just like Gottfried’s, from which he pours water, imitating Ortrud's opening action. Elsa's knight exhibits or reflects most of her own neurotic behavior (in accord with the theory that everyone in our dreams is an aspect of our selves.) Elsa moves through her madness to her wedding night, and like most dreams, this one ends before consummation. Lohengrin doesn't actually leave, he just sort of collapses back into his fetal position.

In the final scene, the last three characters we focus on are Gottfried, Elsa, and Ortrud—the only "real" people in this drama. Elsa awakes from her dream/fantasy/madness as Gottfried reappears on the pier, as if from the marsh—the place of his disappearance.* She calls out to him, “my husband,” in realization, dismay, shock, and/or relief, and she collapses. Is she dead? According to most Wagnerites, she should be, but we can’t be sure. Ortrud (who usually does not die) realizes her plot failed, and turns her evil power and her own knife against herself.   

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