So as you know by now, I was located practically on the doorstep of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. I didn’t take this photo, it is a publicity shot, but just so you know what it looks like, it is that wedge-shaped building.
Inside, it looks like this.
I had the immense good fortune to see this: Wagner’s Lohengrin, performed by Opera Savonlinna, from Finland.
I had a great seat and almost the last available ticket. A few minutes later, the posters looked like this.
They are really strict about photography during the performance, so I cannot show you any, but I can show you this video clip of the same company performing Lohengrin in 2013. It is basically the same production; the same set, same costumes and mostly the same cast members, so you can see and hear a little bit of it.
Savonlinna Opera Festival: Lohengrin
OK, so what you should know about me is that I know jack shit about opera. I’m not totally illiterate where music in general is concerned, and I had a lot of 19th century music around me when I was a kid because my mom liked ballet scores. So I’m not a complete philistine. But I know next to nothing about opera, specifically, and the reason I am saying all this is because it is a massive disclaimer for what follows. I will try to explain Lohengrin to those of you who, like me, don’t know how to talk about opera or really how to appreciate it. Those of you who do know about opera, I apologise in advance.
First of all, the music is great. It is not hard work in any way. It is not hard to like. Lohengrin is supposed to be a magical, romantic fairy tale involving castles, princesses, magic swans, Knights of the Holy Grail and suchlike, so the upshot of that is that the music is melodic and easy to get along with. There isn’t a lot of shrieking or battle noises.
Secondly, I obviously would not dare to fault the singing. Opera Savonlinna is internationally renowned and I am in no position to criticise. Everybody sounded like they were in fine voice.
Thirdly, it was a fairly spectacular production. The sets were impressive, there’s an exciting part where the huge, magic swan bursts into flame, the art direction was thoughtful, with interesting use of video films projected on to the set, for example, of hands painting relevant scenes and symbols, such as flowing water. Also the costumes were mostly very appealing.
Now shall we talk about the story, the casting and about suspension of disbelief.
I can get along with fairy tales when the occasion is right and I totally willingly suspended my disbelief right up until the end of Act 1. Allow me to summarise. There’s a prince and princess, brother and sister. They are waiting to inherit power in a part of mediaeval Germany. The young prince has disappeared, presumed dead, and his sister is being framed for his murder. The king drops by to try and sort things out. It looks as though the princess is guilty and she’ll probably have to be hung. But then, a miracle occurs. She’s been dreaming of a knight in shining armour, as one does, and lo! Just as she’s about to be put to death, a giant magic swan appears on the river, and it is carrying that exact knight in shining armour. He’s come to save her.
At this point, I was totally buying in to the magic fairy tale aspect of it all, and I need to perhaps apologise to Bryan Register and the rest of Opera Savonlinna for saying that the illusion was utterly crushed and ruined when the knight Lohengrin, played by Bryan, appeared, looking like your average, untended, severely overweight World of Warcraft player who lives with his mom. It was kind of a shock. Especially as Lohengrin’s knight costume involved a jumper knitted out of a tinselly yarn that’s normally reserved for Christmas decorations, and trousers with such an eye-wateringly high waist that even Simon Cowell would have rejected them. It was … it was … it was not magical or romantic, that’s all I’m saying.
From this point, the credibility of what was being acted out plummeted downhill. In brief, Princess Elsa instantly falls in love with Prince Fatty of Azeroth. I suppose this is just about understandable at first because when he initially shows up, she has a noose around her neck, so she was probably under some degree of stress. But even after he’s successfully defended her honour in a sword fight and she’s been set free, instead of screaming and running in the opposite direction, she continues to act as though she’s absolutely ridiculously in love with him, even though he looks a fright and has done nothing to deserve it, as the sword fight was the most half-hearted and lack-lustre ‘fight’ you ever did see, and involved Lohengrin and his adversary vaguely waving their swords at each other and then giving up almost immediately. Honestly. It was nothing she couldn’t have easily handled by herself. Her nan could have handled it.
So anyway, she’s ardently draping herself all over the scruffy fat bloke in the lurex jumper and high-waisted trousers, in a manner that would have been unconvincingly over the top even if he’d been paying her, and meanwhile the defeated adversary is blaming his wife, because what else is new. Then Prince Fatty says they’ll get married but Elsa has to promise never to ask who he is, because that’s reasonable. And she says yes, because that’s reasonable. Then there’s more swooning, and then they get married, in the most outrageously camp wedding you ever saw, conducted by the bridegroom, because he’s far too much of a diva to let anyone else be involved with it. I mean really. I know video game culture and consequently I’ve seen my share of hairy lard-arses mincing about in home-made armour, crowning themselves Sir David of Brent, in the absence of any real woman ever showing an interest in them in real life, but this set new standards of unreality. The Chinese guy sitting next to me in the audience started laughing at this point, and frankly I was relieved that I wasn’t the only person who thought it was funny. It was preposterous. It was the most preposterous thing I’ve ever seen.
So anyway, if you want to know what happens after that, the adversary’s wife tricks Elsa into asking Prince Lardarse what his name is. So she does this, and then he announces that even though their love transcends any love known to humanity, he’s walking out on her, because that’s reasonable. So he flounces and minces off, her brother the young prince suddenly returns, and Elsa promptly falls down dead out of grief or something, despite being a perfectly strong and healthy young woman, because seemingly there wasn’t another way to finish the story. So there you go.
And that is the last time I ever let anyone mock World of Warcraft players for being fat, campy losers with over-active imaginations without checking to find out if that person likes romantic opera. And that is all I have to say on the subject. You are welcome. 1 Art point.