Music Beyond Beautiful, Opera Long Beyond Belief

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin” is glorious.

In its first sinuous strains, the score, conducted by Lyric’s music director Sir Andrew Davis, creates a deceptively serene dreamscape. But the story, set in 10th century Antwerp, portrays a violent collision between vengence and virtue.

To experience this, you must commit 4 and 1/2 hours of your life. The opera starts at 6 p.m. and ends just before 10:30 p.m. Aided by two intermissions and pre-ordered box lunches, those with proper musical mettle will be well rewarded.

American soprano Emily Magee brings a clarion voice to the role of Elsa, falsely accused of murder. Superb South African tenor Johan Botha is the knight who defends her, but except for a short sword fight, he stands and sings. As Orturd, the most ambitious opera wife since Lady Macbeth, Bavarian soprano Michaela Schuster steals the show, with vibrant vocal powers and the best acting of the night. American Greer Grimsley, a resonant bass-baritone, plays her husband, Count Friedrich, with equal vigor. German bass Georg Zeppenfeld, who plays King Heinrich, has a majestic voice.

All this high drama, however, plays out on a bare stage with only changing lights and a few ceremonial props. Under the direction of Elijah Moshinsky, the two women are often on the floor with their men towering over them.

Lyric’s legendary chorus is uniformly splendid and the orchestra plays flawlessly for Maestro Davis. A better set and more emotion by Elsa and her knight would have made everything perfect.

“Lohengrin” runs through March 8 with Amber Wagner as Elsa on March 5 and 8. For information, call 312-332-2244, ext. 5600, or visit lyricopera.org