|Opera by Richard Wagner|
Production of the Oslo Opera in 2015
|Based on||Medieval German Romance|
28 August 1850|
Deutsches Nationaltheater Weimar
Lohengrin, WWV 75, 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 inspired other works of art. King Ludwig II of Bavaria named his fairy-tale castle Neuschwanstein (New Swan Castle), 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.
The literary figure of Lohengrin first appeared as a supporting character in the final chapter of the medieval epic poem Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach. The Grail Knight Lohengrin, son of the Grail King Parzival, is sent to the duchess of Brabant to defend her. His protection comes under the condition that she must never ask his name. If she violates this requirement, he will be forced to leave her. Wagner took up these characters and set the "forbidden question" theme at the core of a story which makes contrasts between the godly and the mundane, and between Early Middle Age Christendom and Germanic paganism. Wagner attempted at the same time to weave elements of Greek tragedy into the plot. He wrote the following in Mitteilungen an meine Freunde about his Lohengrin plans:
Who doesn't know "Zeus and Semele?" The god is in love with a human woman and approaches her in human form. The lover finds that she cannot recognize the god in this form, and demands that he should make the real sensual form of his being known. Zeus knows that she would be destroyed by the sight of his real self. He suffers in this awareness, suffers knowing that he must fulfill this demand and in doing so ruin their love. He will seal his own doom when the gleam of his godly form destroys his lover. Is the man who craves for God not destroyed?
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In composing Lohengrin Wagner created a new form of opera, the through-composed music drama. The composition is not divided into individual numbers, but is played from scene to scene without any interruption. This style of composition contrasts with that of the conventional number opera, which is divided into arias, recitatives, and choral sections. Lohengrin still contains lengthy performances—for example, Elsa's "Alone in dark days" and Lohengrin's Grail aria—which harken back to the classical solo aria form.
Wagner made extensive use of leitmotives in his composition (for example, the Grail motif first revealed in the prelude, and the "question" motif first sung by Lohengrin to Elsa). These motives allowed Wagner to precisely narrate the inner thoughts of the characters on stage, even without speech.
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. 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 in Vienna at the Theater am Kärntnertor on 19 August 1858, 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.
Lohengrin's Russian premiere, outside Riga, took place at the Mariinsky Theatre on 16 October 1868.
The United States premiere of Lohengrin took place at the Stadt Theater at the Bowery in New York City on 3 April 1871. 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. 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.
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 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, in Italian, during the company's inaugural season. 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.
Lohengrin was first publicly performed in France at the Eden-Théâtre in Paris on 30 April 1887 in a French translation by Charles-Louis-Étienne 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. 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.
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.
Lohengrin was first performed as part of the Bayreuth Festival in 1894, in a production directed by the composer's widow, Cosima Wagner and featured Willi Birrenkoven, Ernst van Dyck, Emil Gerhäuser alternating as Lohengrin, Lillian Nordica as Elsa, Marie Brema as Ortude, Demeter Popovic as Telramund and was conducted by Felix Mottl. It received 6 performances in its first season in the opera house that Wagner built for the presentation of his works.
A typical performance has a duration of about 3 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours 50 minutes.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 28 August 1850|
(Conductor: Franz Liszt)
|Elsa of Brabant||soprano||Rosa von Milde|
|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|
Lohengrin is scored for the following instruments:
- 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 3 oboes, english horn, 3 clarinets in B-flat, A and C, bass clarinet in B-flat and A, 3 bassoons
- 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba
- timpani, triangle, cymbals, tambourine
- 1st and 2nd violins, violas, violoncellos, and double basses
- 3 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets in B-flat, A and C, 3 bassoons
- 4 horns, 12 trumpets, 4 trombones
- timpani in D, triangle, cymbals, military drums
- organ, harp
The people of the Duchy of Brabant are divided by quarrels and political infighting; also, a devious hostile power left over from the region's pagan past is seeking to subvert the prevailing monotheistic government and to return the Duchy to pagan rule. A mysterious knight, sent by God and possessing superhuman charisma and fighting ability, arrives to unite and strengthen the people, and to defend the innocent noble woman Elsa from a false accusation of murder, but he imposes a condition: the people must follow him without knowing his identity. Elsa in particular must never ask his name, or his heritage, or his origin. The conspirators attempt to undermine her faith in her rescuer, to create doubt among the people, and to force him to leave.
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 older sister, Elsa, of murdering her brother in order to become Duchess of Brabant. Telramund calls upon the King to punish Elsa and to make him the new Duke of Brabant.
The King calls for Elsa to answer Telramund's accusation. Elsa does not answer the King's inquiries, only lamenting her brother's fate. The King declares that he cannot resolve the matter and will leave 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 calls for a champion to step forward, but gets no response. Elsa kneels and prays that God may send her champion to her. 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 only one thing in return for his service: Elsa must never ask him his name or where he has come from. Elsa agrees to this.
Telramund's supporters advise him to withdraw because he cannot prevail against the Knight's powers, but he proudly refuses. The chorus prays to God ("Herr und Gott") for victory for the one whose cause is just. Ortrud, Telramund's wife, 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.
Night in the courtyard outside the cathedral
Telramund and Ortrud, banished from court, 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 before dawn, she hears Ortrud lamenting and pities her. As 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. Ortrud warns Elsa that since she knows nothing about her rescuer, he could leave at any time as suddenly as he came, but Elsa is sure of the Knight's virtues. The two women go into the castle. Left alone outside, Telramund vows to bring about the Knight's downfall.
The sun rises and the people assemble. The Herald announces that Telramund is now banished, and that anyone who follows Telramund shall be considered 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". The Herald further announces that the Knight will lead the people to glorious new conquests, and will celebrate the marriage of himself and Elsa. In the back of the crowd, four noblemen quietly express misgivings to each other because the Knight has rescinded their privileges and is calling them to arms. Telramund secretly draws the four noblemen 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 explain who the Knight is and why anyone should follow him. Their conversation 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 step aside, then leads Elsa and the Knight toward the church. Just as they are about to enter the church, Telramund enters. He claims 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. He demands that the Knight must reveal his name; otherwise the King should rule the trial by combat invalid. The Knight refuses to reveal his identity and claims that only one person in the world has the right to make him do so: his beloved Elsa, and she has pledged not to exercise that right. Elsa, though visibly shaken and uncertain, assures him of her confidence. King Henry refuses Telramund's questions, and the nobles of Brabant and Saxony praise and honor the Knight. Elsa falls back into the crowd where Ortrud and Telramund try to intimidate her, but the Knight forces them both to leave the ceremony, and consoles Elsa. Elsa takes one last look at the banished Ortrud, then enters the church with the wedding procession.
Scene 1: The bridal chamber
Elsa and her new husband are ushered in with the well-known bridal chorus, and they express their love for each other. Ortrud's words, however, have made an impression on Elsa; she laments that her name sounds so sweet on her husband's lips but she cannot utter his name. She asks him to tell her his name when no one else is around, but at all instances he refuses. Finally, despite his warnings, she asks the Knight 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 secrets.
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 discloses his identity ("In fernem Land") by recounting the story of the Holy Grail and of Monsalvat. He reveals himself as Lohengrin, Knight of the Grail and son of King Parsifal, sent to protect an unjustly accused woman. The laws of the Holy Grail say that Knights of the Grail must remain anonymous. If their identity is revealed. they must return home.
As Lohengrin sadly bids farewell to Elsa, the swan-boat reappears. Lohengrin tells Elsa that if she had kept her promise, 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. As Lohengrin tries to get in the boat, Ortrud appears. She tells Elsa that the swan is actually Gottfried, Elsa's brother, whom she cursed to become a swan. The people consider Ortrud guilty of witchcraft. Lohengrin prays and the swan turns back into young Gottfried. Lohengrin declares him the Duke of Brabant. Ortrud sinks as she sees 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.
Notable arias and excerpts
- Act 1
- "Einsam in trüben Tage" (Elsa's Narrative)
- Scene "Wenn ich im Kampfe für dich siege"
- Act 2
- "Durch dich musst' ich verlieren" (Telramund)
- "Euch lüften, die mein Klagen" (Elsa)
- Scene 4 opening, "Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral"
- Act 3
- Bridal Chorus "Treulich geführt"
- "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)
Liszt initially requested Wagner to carefully translate his essay on the opera from French into German, that he might be the principal and long-standing interpreter of the work – a work which, after performing, he regarded as "a sublime work from one end to the other".[clarification needed]
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 2. This interpretation reveals Elsa as a rational individual, upgrades the dramatic significance of the act 1 combat scene, and, more broadly, signals a return to a hermeneutics of Wagnerian drama."
- "Text from Wolfram von Eschenbach: Parzival, book XVI". bibliotheca Augustana. Retrieved 2016-05-22.
- Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954
- Wagner had written the act 3 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) Archived 2013-04-10 at the Wayback Machine.) 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)
- Cesare Gertonani, writing in Teatro alla Scala programme for Lohengrin, December 2012, p.90
- Playbill, Austrian National Library
- Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Performance History of Lohengrin". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
- 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
- The New York Times, "Wagner's Lohengrin", 8 April 1871. See also Opera Gems.com, Lohengrin
- Istituto Nazionale di Studi Verdiani
- Elizabeth Forbes, 'Sophie Cruvelli' (short biography), Arts.jrank.org
- 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'.
- Plot taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.
- Lawrence Kramer, 'Contesting Wagner: The Lohengrin Prelude and Anti-anti-Semitism', 19th-Century Music, 25:2–3 (2001–02), p. 193
- Kramer, 192
- 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Lohengrin.|
- Libretto and leitmotifs in German, Italian and English
- Richard Wagner – Lohengrin. A gallery of historic postcards with motifs from Richard Wagner's operas.
- Wagner's libretto (in German)
- Further Lohengrin discography
- Recording of "Euch Lüften"[permanent dead link] by Lotte Lehmann in MP3 format
- Lohengrin: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- San Diego OperaTalk! with Nick Reveles: Lohengrin