San Francisco Opera continues Fall Season with Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’

Act III of Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

New to San Francisco Opera, David Alden’s production of Wagner’s Lohengrin is onstage at the War Memorial Opera House, starring tenor Simon O’Neill as the mysterious knight Lohengrin. Soprano Julie Adams is Elsa, the princess of Brabant, wrongly accused of a wicked crime, and baritone Brian Mulligan is Telramund – both making role debuts. Mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi takes the role of Ortrud, making her American debut as the scheming wife of Telramund, and that of King Heinrich is sung by Kristinn Sigmundsson. The conductor is Eun Sun Kim, Music Director of San Francisco Opera, leading this production of Lohengrin for the first time.
 
Wagner wrote Lohengrin – libretto and music – between 1848 and 1850. It was based on an old German legend of Lohengrin, Son of Parsifal, which featured in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (written around 1210) and the novel Lohengrin written by Nouhuwius, a follower of von Eschenbach.

Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The story revolves around Elsa, the princess of Brabant, who faced charges of murder regarding the disappearance of her brother, heir to the duchy of Brabant. Her savior, a mysterious knight who arrives to defend her, marries Elsa on condition that she never ask his name nor his origin. Later, Elsa forgets this promise, and he leaves her, never to return.

Lohengrin – described as a romantic opera in three acts – was premiered in Weimar on August 28th, 1850, a performance supervised by Franz Liszt. Wagner was absent from the premiere, as he’d been forced to flee Germany because of his revolutionary sympathies, however Lohengrin, with its epic score, was one of his earliest triumphs.

New Zealand-born Simon O’Neill is known for his performances of Wagnerian heroes such as Lohengrin, Siegmund, Siegfried, Tristan and Parsifal. He is a graduate of the Merola Opera Program, and made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2012 as Mao Tse-Tung in the Company premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China. The Houston Chronicle wrote: “O’Neill’s golden tenor, with its easeful command and sweetness of tone, projects Lohengrin’s superhuman nobility”, and reviewing a concert performance of Verdi’s Otello with Sir Colin Davis and the LSO, the Telegraph described him as “the best heroic tenor to emerge over the last decade”.

Simon O’Neill as Lohengrin and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, Julie Adams was praised by The New York Times for her voice that is “rich, full and slightly earthy in an expressive way”. She has appeared as Mimì in Puccini’s La bohème for San Francisco Opera, and as Freia and Gerhilde in the Company’s 2018 performances of Wagner’s Ring cycle. More recently she was praised for her performance as Elisabeth in Wagner’s Tannhäuser at Wuppertal Opera, which Die Deutsche Bühne described as “vocally brilliant, sensitive and expressive”.

Judit Kutasi as Ortrud and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Romanian-Hungarian mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi makes her American debut – and role debut – as Ortrud. This season, she will make several more major debuts, including the role of Preziosilla in Verdi’s La forza del destino at the Metropolitan Opera. Ms Kutasi makes her house debut at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen with Verdi’s Requiem, and appears for the first time with the Salzburg Easter Festival performing the same masterpiece.

Brian Mulligan as Telramund, Kristinn Sigmundsson as King Heinrich, and Simon O’Neill as Lohengrin in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Brian Mulligan – with a “voice that is rich, secure and really really big” according to the New York Times – makes his role debut as Telramund, Ortrud’s husband. Having made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2008, he has been a frequent collaborator with the Company. Highlights of the current season include his role and house debuts as Barak in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, and at Teatro Regio di Torino in the title role of Der fliegende Holländer.

Kristinn Sigmundsson as King Heinrich and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This year, Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson has appeared as Fasholt in Wagner’s Das Rheingold at Atlanta Opera and as Bartolo in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at Los Angeles Opera. His collaboration with San Francisco Opera goes back to 2019 and his appearance as the Water Gnome in Dvořák’s Rusalka, and he looks forward to appearances in a double bill of W G Still’s Highway 1, USA, and von Zemlinsky’s Die Zwerg at Los Angeles Opera.

Thomas Lehman as the Herald in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Also in the cast is baritone Thomas Lehman as the Herald, making his first appearance with San Francisco Opera.

David Alden is one of the most influential opera directors today, having won two Olivier Awards and the South Bank Show Award, as well as the Bavarian Theatre Prize for Individual Artistic Achievement to mark his long-time relationship with the Bavarian State Opera. He has brought this version of Lohengrin forward from medieval Germany to a mid-twentieth-century European state at war.

Judit Kutasi as Ortrud, Simon O’Neill as Lohengrin, and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

A co-production with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and Opera Vlaanderen, this production of Lohengrin was premiered at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden on April 30, 2018, following which the Express wrote: “ Altogether, this was perhaps as perfect an example of opera at its best as I have ever seen”.

The set designer is Paul Steinberg, costumes are by Gideon Davey, the original lighting designer was Adam Silverman and the production will be relit in San Francisco by Simon Bennison. The projection designer is Tal Rosner and choreography is by Maxine Braham.
 
Eun Sun Kim leads the soloists, San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director John Keene) in performances of Wagner’s Lohengrin until November 1st. The opera is sung in German with English supertitles.
 
 San Francisco Opera offers livestreams for each of its productions during the 2023–24 Season. The Saturday, October 21 performance of Lohengrin will be livestreamed at 7.00 pm PT. The performance will also be available to watch on demand for 48 hours beginning on Sunday, October 22 at 10.00 am PT. Tickets for the livestream and limited on-demand viewing are $27.50. For tickets and more information about livestreams, visit sfopera.com/digital.
 
 

Information sourced from:

 San Francisco Opera program notes 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Lohengrin-German-legendary-figure

https://www.opera-online.com/en/articles/lohengrin-metaphor-of-the-artist

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