What a blue. Delft blue tile, sky blue, magical blue: If something remains of this “Lohengrin” in his last year in Bayreuth, then it is not the energy issue that has become politically topical in view of Yuval Sharon’s substation imagery, but the color in which the artist couple Rosa Loy and Neo Rauch designed his fantastic stage brochures. The same color in which Christian Thielemann immerses Wagner’s music. Even the prelude is blue music, as Nietzsche said, “of opiate, narcotic effects”.
The high strings in pianissimo, glowing, disappearing again, reappearing: they are ethereal sounds that will soon manifest themselves in the figures of the fairy tale opera, Wagner’s first through-composed opera that does not deny the Parisian influence. One is hypnotized on the spot, feels seized by the feeling that Elsa evokes in the second act: “There is happiness that is without remorse!” When Klaus Florian Vogt (at least since Hans Neuenfels’ Bayreuth production of Traum-Lohengrin par excellence) after his grass story at the back of the stage intones simple, intimate, delicate tones and you understand every syllable, it redeems itself. They lay down their weapons, just as the Brabantian insect people electrocute them.
Thielemann is currently the world’s best Wagner conductor. He knows the pitfalls of the Bayreuth orchestra pit inside out, having conducted all of Wagner’s operas here. The difference suddenly becomes clear in this week of the new “Ring der Nibelungen” with Cornelius Meister on the podium.
He does a good job as a stand-in, holds the reins in his hand. With Thielemann, on the other hand, everything is an emanating flow of sound, in the intoxicating instrumental and choir ensembles (again fabulously rehearsed by Eberhard Friedrich) as well as in the finely balanced pausing, in the fragile passages.
Thielemann has not been music director in Bayreuth since the end of 2020. In the course of the MeToo allegations shortly before the season opened, allegations against him were also made. He said he was sexist, behaved derogatory and bossy. Criticism that the Maestro rejects. It always seems to be difficult with him as a human being, and again the news of differences of opinion with the festival management reached the outside world. Please solve your problems if you want to shout at him. Thielemann’s Wagner is addictive, Bayreuth without him would be an immense loss.
Just how he is at the service of the “Lohengrin” singers, how he adapts volume, accents and instrumental color to the voices, the timelessly brilliant innocence tenor by Vogt as well as the lyrical Elsa by Camilla Nylund, the strong-willed Ortrud by Petra Lang or the king Georg Zeppenfeld’s (whose confidently declaiming bass narrator’s voice was sometimes a wish for a main role in Bayreuth). Thielemann, who knows how to model Wagner so sensitively and carries the singers on his hands, is he supposed to be a rumbler in real life? On this evening it is difficult to apply the sobering knowledge that great artists are not better people per se to Christian Thielemann.
Change of scene to rehearsal stage 4, a wooden barracks in the Festival Park. This is where the children’s “Lohengrin” plays, in the 70-minute adaptation by Katharina Wagner and directed by Lea Willeke, who is studying in Berlin. Here, too, blue dominates, a light blue castle backdrop, a bright blue orchestral sound from the spirited Brandenburg State Orchestra conducted by Azis Sadikovic.
While director Sharon sings the praise of doubt in the adult “Lohengrin” and declares Elsa and Ortrud, who were defamed as naive or scheming in Wagner, to be courageous truth fighters, the children’s “Lohengrin” is a little more complicated. The bad bad Ortrud (Stéphanie Müther) is to blame, the Sherlock Holmes detectives named Rufer and König (Manni Laudenbach, Oleskandr Pushniak) find out during their search for Elsa’s missing brother.
Although Elsa (Brit-Tone Müllertz) wears orange, the blue complementary color that is also popular for emancipation from men in the Festspielhaus, she remains a fairly unsuspecting maiden. In the wedding chamber she fiddles around with the dial phone and suitcase TV: The kids in the audience should only know such devices from the technology museum.
However, the self-deprecating cartoon swan projected on the castle wall is funny. And it’s great that the most important opera passages can be heard here for eight to twelve year olds, from “Never shall you question me” to “Truely Guided”, performed by great Wagner singers. Telramund actor Michael Kupfer-Radecky had stepped in as Wotan in Die Walküre just two evenings earlier, the two singers belong to the Walküren octet. Nevertheless, the playful ensemble and the committed orchestra in the small hall develop one thing above all: volume. Opera is when your ears are ringing? Other houses are continuing with their education programs.
Bayreuth is always there when the audience is tramping and raging. In the Festspielhaus, “Lohengrin” was euphorically cheered, with Thielemann leading the way. The controversial “Ring” team is likely to encounter less unanimous reactions after the “Götterdämmerung”.