Stefan Herheim’s 2009 production for the Berlin Staatsoper successfully fuses classical themes with ironic distancing. These including extensive use of marionettes, video projection and Brechtian placards. With the tools and strategies at his disposal, Herheim blurs the lines between the modern and the mythic, switches fluidly between the present day and a version of the kind of storybook staging that Wagner himself advocated.
The production works best when it comments on Wagner and the cult of his operas, but is less successful in probing the parallels between Elsa’s temptation and the bible. The tree body suits that the entire cast – except for Lohengrin – wears at some point were less effective than the Viking horns, velvet berets and tree-like body suits. Fortunately, the Eve-Elsa parallel is not stretched too thin, and most of Hermheim’s other inspirations are welcome, such as the giant puppet stage for Act II (designed by Heike Scheele), a giant quill to represent the swan, and a Superman-like blast off into the sky for the hero at the end.