By David Weininger, Globe Correspondant. March 9, 2015
Salvatore Sciarrino’s 1982 monodrama “Lohengrin” is, among many other things, a masterful act of deflation. Think of Wagner’s four-hour grand opera: Sciarrino’s version lasts only an hour, is written for a chamber ensemble rather than an orchestra, and reduces the dramatis personae to a single singer. Most crucial, the heroism and gallantry of the German myth are punctured, leaving in their wake a fever dream of rejection and loss — or, as Sciarrino described it, “a monstrous landscape of the soul.” You who seek a wedding march, look elsewhere.
Performances of “Lohengrin” are rare, so it was unsurprising that Saturday’s performance came from the crusading sinfonietta Sound Icon, Boston’s leading purveyors of recent European modernism. Handling the vocal duties was the outstanding new-music soprano Tony Arnold, from whom the composer demands an array of sounds that include whispering, swallowing, moans, bird calls, the ticking of a clock, coughing, even chattering teeth. Just about anything except actual singing.
The “invisible action,” as Sciarrino calls it, is told through Elsa’s eyes, beginning with Lohengrin’s refusal to consummate their marriage on their wedding night. In an inversion of Wagner’s plot, Lohengrin first departs on the white swan, then returns on it, all while Elsa mutters in an increasingly unhinged way. At the end, everything is revealed to be an elaborate hallucination: Elsa is actually a patient in a mental hospital. The soprano voices all the parts: Elsa in a tightly wound frenzy, Lohengrin with a flat, ruthless uniformity.
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