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Doubt Kills

Europe in the grasp of Second World War, it's a first thing that comes to mind when glorious curtain of Royal Opera House rises above bleak sets. City looks broken and so do people. Herald is limping and everyone is restrained by the presence of soldiers armed with old-fashioned rifles. Even swan here is reminiscent of swastika.

From the very first moment musicality of exquisite orchestra floods audiences' ear. And it never gets weaker and it never lets go of spectators' emotions.

All singers are very powerful. Although, Anna Smirnova's Ortrud clearly stood out in my view. Her powerful, fiery mezzo with hints of danger and looming disaster expressed the inner world of her character perfectly.

And the chorus of Royal Opera House was sublime! All I want to say to this group of exceptionally talented and sensitive people is BRAVO!

Lighting seemed dramatic and underlined well the general darkness of stark sets. But really made me ask a lot of questions, and not in a good way. Opera is a very abstract art form that first and foremost should be centred around music. However, in this production several things seem to be there just for the sake of an effect. But who can today be shocked by eroticism on stage? We've seen everything possible on stage and on screen now. Especially, considering that sex in this production does not work and distracts from the plot, rather than adds to our understanding of it.

Lohengrin is a figure of light, a Christ-like figure. This opera has powerful esoteric message and subtext. White swan, Grail and the very place valiant knight originates from are shrouded in mystery. Composer and the legend itself tell us that doubt kills. It destroys trust, love, friendship. If only Elsa could love her handsome protector without wanting to know his name! But, alas, she cannot. Elsa just needs to know.

Perhaps it's a warning to us all, perhaps it's an invitation to live though one's heart, rather than intellect. Not all knowledge is essential, not all knowledge is good for us. Some things are better left alone. In this production though "pure and radiant" Elsa first appears from the stage trap door, she then literally slithers across the stage without even turning her face to the audience. And she dressed in black coat that clearly saw better days!

Lohengrin comes from below the ground too. But why? Are we being told that these seemingly good and positive characters are in fact dark?

Friedrich and Ortrud sing their powerful, Macbethian scene in the beginning of the second act while attempting to have sex with each other. Surely, the scene (and singers!) would benefit strongly without such directorial "vision". In the final act curtain opens on huge double bed, and audience starts to giggle. Happy couple first appear amongst the audience with several chorus members but than quickly return to stage. Why do they do that? Is it necessary? It doesn't bring the action any closer to the spectators.

But the hardest punch comes when elated and otherworldly Lohengrin undresses Elsa and then offers her champagne. It is sad that mythological, truly esoteric characters and relationships are debased in such a way. Sure, Elsa and her knight love each other, but perhaps he would rather shower her with white roses, or came upon her as a golden rain?

Nevertheless, this is a strong production that makes for a memorable and highly enjoyable evening. It is so rewarding to see a Wagnerian opera on such a grand scale and to share the experience with living/breathing audience at a magnificent Royal Opera House. It seems an utter miracle after the solitude and lockdowns we had to endure.

Dimitri Devdariani


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