Lohengrin (opera)

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This article is about the opera by Richard Wagner. For the opera by Salvatore Sciarrino, see Lohengrin (Sciarrino).

Lohengrin is a Romantic opera in three acts composed and written by Richard Wagner, first performed in 1850. The story of the eponymous character is taken from medieval German romance, notably the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach and its sequel, Lohengrin, written by a different author, itself inspired by the epic of Garin le Loherain. It is part of the Knight of the Swan tradition.

The opera has proved inspirational towards other works of art. Among those deeply moved by the fairy-tale opera was the young King Ludwig II of Bavaria. "Der Märchenkönig" ("The Fairy-tale King"), as he was dubbed, later built his ideal fairy-tale castle and dubbed it "New Swan Stone", or "Neuschwanstein", after the Swan Knight. It was King Ludwig's patronage that later gave Wagner the means and opportunity to compose, build a theatre for, and stage his epic cycle The Ring of the Nibelung.

The most popular and recognizable part of the opera is the Bridal Chorus, better known as "Here Comes the Bride", often played as a processional at weddings in the West.

Performance history[edit]

The first production of Lohengrin was in Weimar, Germany on 28 August 1850 at the Staatskapelle Weimar under the direction of Franz Liszt, a close friend and early supporter of Wagner. Liszt chose the date in honour of Weimar's most famous citizen, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was born on 28 August 1749.[1] Despite the inadequacies of the lead tenor Karl Beck,[2] it was an immediate popular success.

Wagner himself was unable to attend the first performance, having been exiled because of his part in the 1849 May Uprising in Dresden. Although he conducted various extracts in concert in Zurich, London, Paris and Brussels, it was not until 1861 in Vienna that he was able to attend a full performance. [3]

The opera's first performance abroad was in Riga on 5 February 1855. The Austrian premiere took place at the Burgtheater on 19 August 1859 with Róza Csillag as Ortrud. The work was produced in Munich for the first time at the National Theatre on 16 June 1867 with Heinrich Vogl in the title role and Mathilde Mallinger as Elsa. Mallinger sang Elsa again for the work's premiere at the Berlin State Opera's on 6 April 1869.

Lohengrin's Russian premiere, outside Riga, took place at the Mariinsky Theatre on 16 October 1868.

The Belgian premiere of the opera was given at La Monnaie on 22 March 1870 with Étienne Troy as Friedrich of Telramund and Feliciano Pons as Heinrich der Vogler.[4]

The United States premiere of Lohengrin took place at the Stadt Theater at the Bowery in New York City on 3 April 1871.[5] Conducted by Adolf Neuendorff, the cast included Theodor Habelmann as Lohengrin, Luise Garay-Lichtmay as Elsa, Marie Frederici as Ortrud, Adolf Franosch as Heinrich and Edward Vierling as Telramund.[6] The first performance in Italy took place seven months later at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna on 1 November 1871 in an Italian translation by operatic baritone Salvatore Marchesi. It was notably the first performance of any Wagner opera in Italy. Angelo Mariani conducted the performance, which starred Italo Campanini as Lohengrin, Bianca Blume as Elsa, Maria Löwe Destin as Ortrud, Pietro Silenzi as Telramund, and Giuseppe Galvani as Heinrich der Vogler.[4] The performance on 9 November was attended by Giuseppe Verdi, who annotated a copy of the vocal score with his impressions and opinions of Wagner (this was almost certainly his first exposure to Wagner's music).[7]

La Scala produced the opera for the first time on 30 March 1873, with Campanini as Lohengrin, Gabrielle Krauss as Elsa, Philippine von Edelsberg as Ortrud, Victor Maurel as Friedrich, and Gian Pietro Milesi as Heinrich.[4]

The United Kingdom premiere of Lohengrin took place at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 8 May 1875 using the Italian translation by Marchesi. Auguste Vianesi(it) conducted the performance, which featured Ernesto Nicolini as Lohengrin, Emma Albani as Elsa, Anna D'Angeri as Ortruda, Maurel as Friedrich, and Wladyslaw Seideman as Heinrich. The opera's first performance in Australia took place at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Melbourne on 18 August 1877. The Metropolitan Opera mounted the opera for the first time on 7 November 1883 during the company's inaugural season. Sung in Italian, Campanini portrayed the title role with Christina Nilsson as Elsa, Emmy Fursch-Madi as Ortrud, Giuseppe Kaschmann as Telramund, Franco Novara as Heinrich, and Auguste Vianesi conducting.[4]

Ludwig II of Bavaria portrayed as Lohengrin below a moon with Wagner's face. Brochure in Der Floh, 1885.

Lohengrin was first publicly performed in France at the Eden-Théâtre in Paris on 30 April 1887 in a French translation by Charles-Louis-Etienne Nuitter. Conducted by Charles Lamoureux, the performance starred Ernest van Dyck as the title hero, Fidès Devriès as Elsa, Marthe Duvivier as Ortrud, Emil Blauwaert as Telramund, and Félix-Adolphe Couturier as Heinrich. There was however an 1881 French performance given as a Benefit, in the Cercle de la Méditerranée Salon at Nice, organized by Sophie Cruvelli, in which she took the role of Elsa.[8] The opera received its Canadian premiere at the opera house in Vancouver on 9 February 1891 with Emma Juch as Elsa. The Palais Garnier staged the work for the first time the following 16 September with van Dyck as Lohengrin, Rose Caron as Elsa, Caroline Fiérens-Peters as Ortrude, Maurice Renaud as Telramund, and Charles Douaillier as Heinrich.[4]

The first Chicago performance of the opera took place at the Auditorium Building (now part of Roosevelt University) on 9 November 1891. Performed in Italian, the production starred Jean de Reszke as the title hero, Emma Eames as Elsa, and Édouard de Reszke as Heinrich.[4]

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere cast, 28 August 1850
(Conductor: Franz Liszt)
Lohengrin tenor Karl Beck
Elsa of Brabant soprano Rosa von Milde-Agthe
Ortrud, Telramund's wife dramatic soprano or mezzo-soprano Josephine Fastlinger
Friedrich of Telramund, a Count of Brabant baritone Hans von Milde
Heinrich der Vogler (Henry the Fowler) bass August Höfer
The King's Herald baritone August Pätsch
Four Noblemen of Brabant tenors, basses
Four Pages sopranos, altos
Duke Gottfried, Elsa's brother silent Hellstedt
Saxon, Thuringian, and Brabantian counts and nobles, ladies of honor, pages, vassals, serfs

Instrumentation[edit]

Lohengrin is scored for the following instruments:

on-stage

Synopsis[edit]

Place: Antwerp, on the Scheldt.
Time: 10th century

Act 1[edit]

Illustration from the London première

King Henry the Fowler has arrived in Brabant where he has assembled the German tribes in order to expel the marauding Hungarians from his dominions. He also needs to settle a dispute involving the disappearance of the child-Duke Gottfried of Brabant. The Duke's guardian, Count Friedrich von Telramund, has accused the Duke's sister, Elsa, of murdering her brother in order to become the Duchess of Brabant. He calls upon the King to punish Elsa and to make him, Telramund, the new Duke of Brabant, since he is the next of kin to the late Duke.

The King calls for Elsa to answer Telramund's accusation. She enters, surrounded by her attendants. She does not answer to the King's inquiries, only lamenting her brother's fate. The King declares that he cannot resolve the matter and defers it to God's judgment through ordeal by combat. Telramund, a strong and seasoned warrior, agrees enthusiastically. When the King asks Elsa who shall be her champion, Elsa describes a knight she has beheld in her dreams (Narrative: "Alone in dark days").

Twice the Herald sounds the horn in summons, without response. Elsa sinks to her knees and prays to God. A boat drawn by a swan appears on the river and in it stands a knight in shining armour. He disembarks, dismisses the swan, respectfully greets the king, and asks Elsa if she will have him as her champion. Elsa kneels in front of him and places her honour in his keeping. He asks but one thing in return for his service: she is never to ask him his name or where he has come from. Elsa agrees to this.

Telramund's people advise him to withdraw because he cannot prevail against the Knight's powers, but he proudly refuses and the combat area is prepared. The company prays to God ("Herr und Gott") for victory for the one whose cause is just. Ortrud privately expresses confidence that Telramund will win. The combat commences. The unknown knight defeats Telramund but spares his life. Taking Elsa by the hand, he declares her innocent and asks for her hand in marriage. The crowd exits, cheering and celebrating.

Act 2[edit]

Johanna Jachmann-Wagner as Ortrud, ca. 1860

Night in the courtyard outside the cathedral

Telramund and Ortrud, banished, listen unhappily to the distant party-music. Ortrud reveals that she is a pagan witch (daughter of Radbod Duke of Frisia), and tries to revive Telramund's courage, assuring him that her people (and he) are destined to rule the kingdom again. She plots to induce Elsa to violate the mysterious knight's only condition.

When Elsa appears on the balcony in the twilight before dawn she hears Ortrud lamenting and pities her. While Elsa descends to open the castle door, Ortrud prays to her pagan gods, Wodan and Freia, for malice, guile, and cunning, in order to deceive Elsa and restore pagan rule to the region. When Elsa appears, Ortrud warns her that since she knows nothing about her rescuer, he could leave her any time, as suddenly as he came, but Elsa is sure of the virtues of her rescuer.

The sun rises and the people assemble. The Herald announces that Telramund is now outlawed, and that anyone who follows Telramund is an outlaw by the law of the land. In addition, he announces that the king has offered to make the unnamed knight the Duke of Brabant; however, the Knight has declined the title, and prefers to be known only as "Protector of Brabant".[9] The Herald further announces that the Knight will lead the people to glorious new conquests, and will celebrate the marriage of him and Elsa. Behind the crowd, four noblemen quietly express misgivings to each other because the Protector of Brabant has rescinded their privileges and is calling them to arms. Telramund appears, and, concealing himself from the crowd, draws these four knights aside and assures them that he will regain his position and stop the Knight, by accusing him of sorcery.

As Elsa and her attendants are about to enter the church, Ortrud, as part of her retinue, challenges Elsa to tell who her husband is, and to explain why anyone should follow him. The King enters with the Knight. Elsa tells both of them that Ortrud was interrupting the ceremony. The Knight tells Ortrud to go back into the crowd, then takes Elsa to the wedding. The King leads at the front of the couple. When they are about to go inside the church (once more), Telramund also enters. He pleads to the king that his defeat in combat was invalid because the Knight did not give his name (trial by combat traditionally being open only to established citizens), then accuses him of sorcery. The Knight refuses to reveal his identity and claims that only one person in the world has the right to know his origin – his beloved Elsa and no other person. Elsa, though visibly shaken and uncertain, assures him of her confidence. King Henry refuses Telramund's questioning of the Knight's name to the Knight, and the nobles of Brabant and Saxony praise and give respect to the Knight. Elsa, not seeing her beloved, falls back to the crowd where Ortrud and Telramund take her and try to intimidate her, but the Knight forces both to leave the ceremony. The Knight consoles Elsa. Finally, the King, the Knight and Elsa, together with the men and women around, go forward. Elsa takes one last look at the banished Ortrud, then they enter the church.

Act 3[edit]

Joseph O'Mara in the title role, 1894–1895

Scene 1: The bridal chamber

Elsa and her new husband are ushered in with the well-known bridal chorus, and the couple express their love for each other. Ortrud's words, however, are impressed upon Elsa, she laments that her name sounds so sweet in her husband's lips but she cannot utter his name, afterwards she asks him to confide on her his name to keep it secret, when no one is around, but at all instances he refuses, finally, despite his warnings, she asks her husband the fatal questions. Before the Knight can answer, Telramund and his four recruits rush into the room in order to attack him. The knight defeats and kills Telramund. Then, he sorrowfully turns to Elsa and asks her to follow him to the king, to whom he will now reveal his mystery.

Scene 2: On the banks of the Scheldt (as in Act 1)

The troops arrive equipped for war. Telramund's corpse is brought in, Elsa comes forward, then the Knight. He tells the King that Elsa has broken her promise and he discloses his identity by telling the story of the Holy Grail, on Monsalvat, and reveals himself as Lohengrin, Knight of the Holy Grail and son of King Parsifal sent to protect an unjustly accused woman. The rules of the Holy Grail determine that Knights of the Grail must remain anonymous, retiring from all human sight if their identity is revealed; so the time for his return has come.

As he sadly bids farewell to his beloved bride, the swan reappears. Lohengrin tells Elsa that if she had maintained her oath, she could have recovered her lost brother, and gives her his sword, horn and ring, for he is to become the future leader of Brabant. Then, when Lohengrin tries to get in the boat, Ortrud appears. She tells Elsa that the swan who drove Lohengrin to the bank was actually Gottfried, Elsa's brother, on whom she put a curse by transforming him into a swan. The people consider Ortrud guilty of witchcraft. Lohengrin prays and the swan turns into another form, a young Gottfried. He elects him as the Duke of Brabant. Ortrud sinks as she sees Gottfried and her plans thwarted.

A dove descends from heaven and, taking the place of the swan at the head of the boat, leads Lohengrin to the castle of the Holy Grail. Elsa is stricken with grief and falls to the ground dead.[10]

Notable arias and excerpts[edit]

  • Act 1
    • Prelude
    • "Einsam in trüben Tage" (Elsa's Narrative)
    • Scene "Wenn ich im Kampfe für dich siege"
  • Act 2
    • "Euch lüften, die mein Klagen" (Elsa)
    • Scene 4 opening, arranged as "Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral"
  • Act 3
    • Prelude
    • Bridal Chorus "Treulich geführt" arranged as "Here Comes the Bride"
    • "Das süsse Lied verhallt" (Love duet)
    • "Höchstes Vertrau'n" (Lohengrin's Declaration to Elsa)
    • Entry of King Henry
    • "In fernem Land" (Lohengrin's Narration)
    • "Mein lieber Schwan... O Elsa! Nur ein Jahr an deiner Seite" (Lohengrin's Farewell)

Interpretations[edit]

In their article "Elsa's reason: on beliefs and motives in Wagner's Lohengrin", Ilias Chrissochoidis and Steffen Huck propose what they describe as "a complex and psychologically more compelling account [of the opera]. Elsa asks the forbidden question because she needs to confirm Lohengrin's belief in her innocence, a belief that Ortrud successfully erodes in Act II. This interpretation reveals Elsa as a rational individual, upgrades the dramatic significance of the Act I combat scene, and, more broadly, signals a return to a hermeneutics of Wagnerian drama."[11]

Recordings[edit]

Main article: Lohengrin discography

References[edit]

  1. ^ Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954
  2. ^ Wagner had written the Act III tenor monologue In fernem land (the "Grail Narration") in two parts, however, he asked Liszt to cut the second part from the premiere performance, as he felt Karl Beck could not do it justice and it would result in an anticlimax. That unfortunate circumstance established the tradition of performing only the first part of the Narration.(see Peter Bassett, An Introduction to Wagner's 'Lohengrin': A paper given to the Patrons and Friends of Opera Australia, Sydney 2001)) In fact, the first time the second part was ever sung at the Bayreuth Festival was by Franz Völker during the lavish 1936 production, which Adolf Hitler personally ordered and took a close interest in, to demonstrate what a connoisseur of Wagner he was. (see Opera-L Archives)
  3. ^ Cesare Gertonani, writing in Teatro alla Scala programme for Lohengrin, December 2012, p.90
  4. ^ a b c d e f Performance History of Lohengrin at amadeusonline.eu
  5. ^ Gustav Kobbé, The Complete Opera Book (Putnam, London 1929 printing), p. 117. The first Academy performance was 23 March 1874 with Christina Nilsson, Cary, Italo Campanini and Del Puente (ibid.). See 'Wagner in the Bowery', Scribner's Monthly Magazine 1871, 214–16; The New York Times, Opera at the Stadt Theater, 3 May 1871
  6. ^ New York Times, Wagner's "Lohengrin", 8 April 1871. See also Opera Gems.com, Lohengrin
  7. ^ Istituto Nazionale di Studi Verdiani
  8. ^ Elizabeth Forbes, 'Sophie Cruvelli' (short biography), Arts.jrank.org
  9. ^ The title Führer von Brabant is often altered to Schützer in performances since 1945, because the former title has acquired meanings unforeseen by Wagner. Führer formerly meant 'Leader' or 'Guide'.
  10. ^ Plot taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.
  11. ^ Chrissochoidis, Ilias and Huck, Steffen, "Elsa's reason: on beliefs and motives in Wagner's Lohengrin", Cambridge Opera Journal, 22/1 (2010), pp. 65-91.

External links[edit]