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San Francisco, Day Three

Day three in San Francisco was a fun one, if busy.

Before I had left home, late look at San Francisco Opera's website allowed me to discover that Jake Heggie, the composer of Moby-Dick, was giving an interview Sunday morning, so once again, I pulled my rear end out of the comfy hotel bed and took myself on a hike through the hills of San Francisco to Grace Cathedral.

Heggie was interviewed by Dr. Jane Shaw, who is a dean of the cathedral, and who did an excellent job of drawing stories out of her guest. Heggie had actually been at the pre-opera talk of the performance of Moby-Dick that I had seen on Friday, so there was some overlap in the information, but it was nice to attend a talk where he was about to speak more about his work in general. I walked out of the talk determined to pick up the recording of his first opera Dead Man Walking.

I also walked out with his autograph. (Yay!)

I felt like a complete geek, but since I had brought my program in preparation of just this opportunity, and he came down from the stage to chat with a few people, I decided I had to say hi and an autograph request always makes a great icebreaker.

Besides, how many times do opera composers have people tell them "I loved your work so much that I flew several thousand miles so I could see it again." I'm paraphrasing, but that was the essential message.

After that there was just enough time to walk halfway back to the opera house, realize I'd lost my coat, race back to get it and arrive in the auditorium just in time for the pre-talk on Lohengrin.

Once again, my procrastination had kicked me in the behind. I was essentially walking into Lohengrin cold. As I joke with my friends, opera is a spoiler-friendly medium. The more you know in advance, the more you'll enjoy it. It's all about the nuance of one particular production and performance. In this case, I had a basic idea of the plot and I knew that as some point we'd have hear the wedding march that has become a mainstay of weddings.

Luckily, one of my seat partners was a lovely gentleman from Denver who had a similar propensity to travel for opera. He was in San Francisco to see this particular production of Lohengrin. We had lovely chats at the intermissions about opera in general and Wagner in particular.

Watching Lohengrin, I was reminded of a failed NaNoWriMo a couple years ago. I was writing a new version of the Bluebeard myth. I got the word count, but the story was just terrible. So terrible, I refuse to look at it to this day.

In Lohengrin, Elsa von Brabant has been accused of murdering her younger brother, in order that she can marry and fill the power vacuum through her husband. Her accusers, Telramund and his wife Ortund have made their own claim to the throne. Elsa, called to defend herself, describes a dream she had of a knight who will defend her honour and marry her. The herald calls for the knight to appear, but it's when Elsa add her voice to his that a stranger, led by a swan, appears.

Yes, a swan. That's Wagner for you.

The knight agrees to fight for Elsa's honour and promises to marry her, on one condition. She must never ask his name or where he comes from. (Yes, it's nuts, but when said knight looks like Brandon Jovanovich, one might be tempted to say yes.)

Of course, being opera, Elsa is not able to keep her promise. As my seat partner confessed, one wants to scream at the knight to keep Elsa away from Telmarund and Ortund. The doubts start to form in Elsa's mind, is her future husband really a monster -- what other reason would he have for being so secretive? (This reminded me so strongly of Psyche's sisters, who pour a similar poison into the heroine's ear.)

The knight and Elsa marry -- I find it interesting how prevalent their wedding march is in modern ceremonies, considering how disastrous this wedding is -- and Elsa cannot stand the suspense, breaking down and demanding the knight's name and origin.

Considering that the opera is named for him, it's not a surprise that we do find out the knight's name. Son of Parzifal, Lohengrin lives with the Grail knights until he is summoned to the mortal world to defend an innocent. There he may stay so long as no one knows his identity. One he is discovered, he must return to the Grail.

Otrund, who is a sorceress (*shrug*, Wagner) , rejoices over the betrayal. Lohengrin was the one man who could restore Elsa's brother -- who is not dead, but transformed into the swan. But as he departs, Lohengrin breaks the spell.

This production was interesting. The costumes and set were reminiscent of 1950s/1960s eastern Europe, but the marriage bower of Lohengrin and Elsa was set in a lightbox, with little to anchor it into the rest of the production. It was an interesting way to set off the fleeting moment of happiness between them.

I might see if I can find some DVDs of other productions. I have a feeling it might be time for another attempt at that Bluebeard story, which I still want to tell.

After Lohengrin, I met up with my friend Tracy for dinner and finally got to meet her new daughter Mélanie, who is the more cheerful, contented baby I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. It was so nice to have a writing chat directly after seeing an opera, as it was able to talk through various ideas it brought forward in my mind.

I went back to the hotel and though it was a short passage, I did get some fiction on the page for the first time in quite a while.

Day Four was a lovely day with fandoria and her son, then attending Fight Night at the Winchester House.

Cate

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
widgetfox
Nov. 25th, 2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
Jane Shaw was chaplain of my college. I think she's fab.
lanyn
Nov. 25th, 2012 09:45 pm (UTC)
Sounds like a great time, and I love your comments about opera being spoiler-friendly. I have a friend who has this weird idea that you should go to an opera blind, take it in once, and that's that. You're done with that particular opera. My sister and I are like, what??? You're missing the whole point.

I may not like to listen to Wagner, but I do love his stories. I used to have Lohengrin in a book and would read it over and over. It had great illustrations too. They're such great, fantastic stories.
17catherines
Nov. 26th, 2012 08:39 am (UTC)
This sounds like fun. I'm beginning to suspect I need to see some Wagner sometime - I really don't like his music at all, but I get the impression it really is the sort of thing that needs a live performance to be truly appreciated?
mysterysquid
Nov. 28th, 2012 12:11 pm (UTC)
You really packed it in!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )