The Complete Wagner - Lohengrin

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

Lohengrin is an opera in three acts, composed and written by Richard Wagner, first performed in 1850.
The story of Lohengrin 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.

 König Ludwig II
Schloß Neuschwanstein
The opera has proved inspirational towards other works of art.
Among those deeply moved by the fairy-tale opera was the young König Ludwig II of Bayern.
'Der Schwan König' ('The Swan King'), as he was dubbed, later built his ideal fairy-tale castle and dubbed it 'the Castle of New Swan Stone', or 'Schloß Neuschwanstein', after the Swan Knight.
Ludwig and his young lover, Paul von Thurn und Taxis shared a passion for composer Richard Wagner and the theater.

Paul Maximilian Lamoral
Fürst von Thurn und Taxis
Paul was gifted with a beautiful voice, and sang for the king many times.
When Paul and Ludwig visited Wagner’s home, the two young men shared a “cosy little room,” as described in one of Paul’s letters.
Wagner rehearsed Paul in a portion of his opera 'Lohengrin', which was performed for the 20th birthday of the king on August 25, 1865, at the Alpsee in Hohenschwangau (High Place of the Swan), where Ludwig’s family had a favorite castle.
It was magnificently staged, with Paul dressed as the hero Lohengrin, wearing silver armor (see below), drawn over the lake by an artificial swan, as the scenery was illuminated by electric lights (run from Ludwig's private generator).
The King sat enraptured as his intimate friend sang his favorite music.
It was, of course, König Ludwig's patronage that later gave Wagner the means and opportunity to compose, build a theater for, and stage his epic cycle 'The Ring of the Nibelung'.

Ludwig's Swan
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2015
Significant Productions of Lohengrin

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 honor of Weimar's most famous citizen, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was born on 28 August 1749.
Despite the inadequacies of the lead tenor Karl Beck, 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.
The opera's first performance outside German-speaking lands 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 also took the role of Elsa in the work's premiere at the Berlin State Opera on 6 April 1869.
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.
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).
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


Act I

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.
Twice the Herald sounds the horn in summons, without response.
Elsa sinks to her knees and prays to God.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
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, and marry him.
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 does not join the prayer, but 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.
The crowd exits, cheering and celebrating.

Act II

Swan Tapestry from Schloß Neuschwanstein
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 two women enter the castle together.
Left alone outside Friedrich vows to bring about the downfall of the unknown knight who defeated him.
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.

Contemporary Bayreuth Production of Lohengrin
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".
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 rushes to the front of the procession and challenges Elsa to tell who her husband is, and to explain why anyone should follow him.
The ensuing exchange is interrupted by the entrance of the King 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 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 the Knight 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, 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.


Scene 1: The bridal chamber

Stage Set for Lohengrin - Act III - Alfred Roller - 1906
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, Ritter des Heiligen Grals (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 Heiliger Gral (Holy Grail).
Elsa is stricken with grief and falls to the ground dead.


Lohengrin contains some of Wagner's finest choral music, including, 'Seht ! Welch ein seltsem Wunder !' and the magnificent 'Zug zum Münster' ('Gesegnet soll sie schreiten').
Unfortunatelt the 'Bridal Chorus', ('Treulich geführt') is played so often at very un-Wagnarian weddings, that it is now very difficult to appreciate its full beauty.
The Act I Vorspiel, of course, is one of Wagner's finest works.
Lohengrin is significant in a number of ways.
It is, in many ways, the culmination of German 'Gothic revival' romanticism.
It provided a mythology which was to enthrall Ludwig II, from when he was a teenager until his tragic (and mysterious) death, and provide the 'blueprint' for the swan castle - Schloß Neuschwanstein.
Finally Lohengrin was the precursor of the greatest of all Wagner's works - Parsifal.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

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