LA Opera's current production of Lohengrin looks like it's had some trouble finding an audience. When General Chang and I went to go see it last Saturday night the back rows of the orchestra were completely empty. It was a shocking, dismaying sight. I discussed this with a couple of gentlemen seated near us, one of whom expressed embarrassment that the LAO audience decided to largely bail on this one. Too bad, because they're missing out on a solid production and cast for one of Wagner's best operas and four hours of musical glory from James Conlon and the LAO orchestra, which never sounded better to me than they did that night.
I was expecting (and hoping for) a much wilder, regie-esque production from director Lydia Steier, who's worked with the notorious Calixto Bieito and the visionary Achim Freyer, but with the exception of not having a swan in sight, this is a straightforward, no-nonsense production which sets the story in WWI to great effect. The cast has three superlative leads- Ben Heppner is the title character, a knight of the Grail seeking an unquestioning love. A signature role for Heppner, I've heard he's had off moments during this run but on this night he was in fine, if not robust, voice. He impressed me on two levels- his complete comfort in the role and his ability to make his voice heard at every point, remaining a distinct presence which even stood out crystal-clear during the robust chorus scenes.
Soile Isokoski's Elsa was the evening's greatest pleasure. Her voice is pure gold and she expresses the quandary of Elsa's plight convincingly. Dolora Zajick, who received the evening's loudest applause, was fantastic as Ortrud, but I thought the audience response to her a bit overdone as she fit well within the ensemble and Isokoski was as good if not better. Perhaps this crowd was applauding what they've read, not what they heard? The other principals, Kristinn Sigmundsson as King Heinrich and James Johnson as the hapless Telramund also made great contributions to the whole, as did the chorus.
It's really quite inexplicable why people are avoiding this one. It's an intelligent, well-designed and performed production of standard rep and some of the greatest music you'll ever hear. I believe there is one more performance left and heavily discounted tickets are available for it.
Prior to the show the General and I had dinner at First & Hope, which did us right with some great food and drink. My first visit here left me ambivalent at best, but my return left me a fan.