When Kasper Holten, Royal Opera House’s outgoing director, presented his Lohengrin at Deutsche Oper in 2011, he seemed to have doomed the DOB’s new Wagner cycle to excruciating dullness.
With his mix of traditional elements (wings, period costumes) and more abstract elements, his production struggles to find the right tone. If the result is serviceable, it also lacks intent and focus.
The sparse set frames the assembly scenes of the first and last acts effectively. In between, a huge cross descends from the ceiling as a walkway for Else during her nighttime talk with Ortrud; there is also a dazzling mise en abyme effect for the wedding scene, with the chapel concealed behind a stage curtain that opened onto another curtain. And speaking of curtains, the intermission curtain has “Lohengrin” scrawled across it, which might be Holten winking at us, making us aware that the opera’s title is also its punch line.
In this day and age, directors working in Germany should find ways to artistically and critically engage with the problematic elements in Wagner’s libretti. This is sadly not the case here. The only time Holten acknowledges the work’s ultra-nationalism is at the very end, where Lohengrin confusingly gives a fascist-looking fist salute.
Deutsche Oper is one of Germany’s great houses for Wagner, so it seems especially unfortunate that the company’s current Wagner cycle runs the gamut of baffling (Graham Vick’s Tristan) to insipid (Philip Stölzl’s Parsifal), with Kirsten Harms’ durable Tannhäuser as the house’s only truly gripping production.