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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 "Neuschwansteinmarker," after the Swan Knight. It was King Ludwig's patronage that later gave Wagner the means and opportunity to build a theatre for, compose and stage his epic cycle, the Ring of the Nibelung.

Several excerpts have become famous, including the preludes to the first and third acts, the opening music to Act II, Scene 4, which has been converted into the concert band piece "Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral", Lohengrin's aria In fernem Land (Act III, Scene 2), and the Bridal Chorus "Treulich geführt" from Act III, Scene 1 – commonly known as "Here Comes the Bride."

Performance history

The first production of Lohengrin was in Weimarmarker, Germanymarker on 28 August 1850 at the Staatskapelle Weimarmarker 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. It was an immediate popular success.

The opera's first performance abroad was in Rigamarker on 5 February 1855. The Austrian premiere took place at the Burgtheatermarker on 19 August 1859 with Róza Csillag as Ortrud. The work was produced in Monacomarker for the first time at the National Theatre on 16 June 1867 with Heinrich Vogl in the title role and Mathilde Mallinger as Elsa. Malinger sang Elsa again for the work's premiere at the Berlin State Operamarker's on 6 April 1869. The Belgiummarker premiere of the opera was given at La Monnaiemarker on 22 March 1870 with Étienne Troy as Friedrich of Telramund and Feliciano Pons as Heinrich der Vogler.

The United States premiere of Lohengrin took place at the Academy of Music in New York Citymarker on 3 April 1871. Conducted by Adolf Neuendorff, the cast included Theodor Habelmann as the title hero, Luise Garay-Lichtmay as Elsa, Teodosia Friderici as Ortrud, Adolf Franosch as Telramund, and Karl Formes as Heinrich der Vogler. 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.

Lohengrin's Russian premiere took place at the Mariinsky Theatremarker on 5 February 1873 in a double billing with the premiere of three scenes from Modest Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov (the Inn Scene, Scene in Marina's Boudoir, and Scene in the Garden of Mniszech's Castle). Eduard Nápravník conducted the performance which featured Fjodor Petrovich Kommissarievskij as Lohengrin, Julia Fjodorovna Platonova as Elsa, Darhija Mikhajlovna Leonova as Ortrud, and Osip Afanasievich Petrov as Heinrich der Vogler. La Scalamarker produced the opera for the first time the following month on 30 March 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 Housemarker, Covent Gardenmarker 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 Melbournemarker on 18 August 1877. The Metropolitan Opera mounted the opera for the first time on November 7, 1883 during the company's inaugral 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.

Lohengrin was first publicly performed in France at the Eden-Théâtre in Parismarker on 30 April 1887 in a French translation by Charles 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 Garniermarker 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-Arnold Renaud as Telramund, and Charles Douaillier as Heinrich.

The first Chicagomarker performance of the opera took place at the Auditorium Buildingmarker 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.

Instrumentation

The instrumentation is quite extensive for an orchestra of 1850. The work calls for:

3 flutes and 1 piccolo (also 3rd flute)3 oboes and English horn (also 3rd oboe)3 clarinets and bass clarinet (also 3rd clarinet)3 bassoons

4 horns3 trumpets3 trombones1 tuba

Violins (1 and 2)ViolasCellosDouble bassesHarp

2 pairs of timpanicymbalstriangletambourine

There are also parts for offstage and onstage instruments. They are as follows:Act 1 – 4 trumpetsAct 2 – Scene 1 – piccolo, 2 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpano, and cymbals3rd scene – 4 trumpets4th scene – 4 trumpets5th scene – 10 trumpets, organAct 3 – Scene 1 – 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 2 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, triangle, harp2nd scene – 4 trumpets, 4 trombones,3rd scene – 12 trumpets, tenor drums

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 28 August 1850
(Conductor: Franz Liszt)


Lohengrin tenor Carl Beck

Elsa of Brabant soprano Rosa von Milde-Agthe

Ortrud, Telramund's wife mezzo-soprano Fastlinger

Friedrich of Telramund, a Count of Brabant baritone Hans von Milde

Heinrich der Vogler (Henry the Fowler) bass 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



Synopsis

Place: Antwerpmarker, on the Scheldtmarker.
Time: 10th century


Act 1

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 Hungarians from his dominions, and to settle a dispute between two of his subjects. These are Count Telramund, who acts as regent and guardian for the child Duke Gottfried of Brabant, against the young Duke's sister, Elsa. Gottfried has mysteriously disappeared and Telramund, incited by his manipulative wife Ortrud, accuses Elsa of murdering her brother and demands that she give him the dukedom.

Elsa appears, surrounded by her attendants. Knowing herself to be innocent, she declares that she is willing to submit to the judgment of God through the ordeal of combat. Telramund agrees enthusiastically. When the King asks who shall be her champion, Elsa describes a knight she has beheld in her dreams (Narrative: "Alone in dark days") and sinks to her knees, praying for God to send her relief.

Twice the Herald calls upon the unknown knight in vain; however, when Elsa calls herself, a miracle occurs. A boat drawn by a swan appears on the river and in it stands a knight in shining armour. He lands and dismisses the swan before respectfully greeting 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 who he is or where he has come from. Elsa agrees to this. Telramund's people advise him to withdraw because he cannot win against magic, but Telramund proudly refuses to back down, and the combat area is prepared. The company prays to the one "Herr und Gott" for victory for the fighter whose cause is just. Ortrud does not join the prayer because she is a member of the pre-monotheistic pagan religion, which the ruling monotheists tolerate (unwisely, as it turns out). The combat commences. Telramund loses, but the mysterious knight grants him his life. Taking Elsa by the hand, the unknown knight declares her innocent and asks for her hand in marriage. The crowd exits, cheering and celebrating, and Ortrud and Telramund are left to lament their defeat.

Act 2

Night in the courtyard outside the cathedral. Telramund and Ortrud, both banished, listen unhappily to the distant party-music. Ortrud, a heathen witch (pre-monotheist pagan), daughter of Radbod, the Duke of Frisia, 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 takes pity upon her. While Elsa descends to open the castle door, Ortrud prays to her pagan gods, Wodan and Freija, 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.

The populace assembles and the Herald 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 "Leader [Führer] of Brabant", or, in post-WWII performances, "Guardian [Schützer] of Brabant". The Herald further announces that the Knight will lead the people to glorious new conquests. Four knights quietly express misgivings to each other. 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 witchcraft.

As Elsa and her attendants are about to enter the church, Ortrud appears, clad in magnificent attire, and challenges Elsa to tell who her husband is, and to explain why anyone should follow him. 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 is traditionally open only to established citizens. The Knight refuses to reveal his identity and claims that only one has the right to know his origin – Elsa and Elsa alone. Elsa, though visibly shaken and uncertain, assures him of her confidence. The King supports him too, and the Knight and Elsa enter the church together.

Act 3

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, and, despite his warning, she asks her husband the fatal question. Telramund and his four recruits rush into the room in order to attack the strange knight. Instead it is Telramund who is slain. The Knight sorrowfully turns to Elsa and asks her to follow him to the king, to whom he will now reveal the mystery.

Change of scene: On the banks of the Scheldt, as in Act I. The troops arrive equipped for war. Telramund's corpse is brought in and the stranger defends his slaying of Telramund. One thing remains – he must now disclose his identity to the king and Elsa. He tells the story of the Holy Grail, and reveals himself as Lohengrin, Knight of the Holy Grail and son of King Parsifal. The time for his return has arrived and he has only tarried to prove Elsa innocent.

As he sadly bids farewell to his beloved bride, the swan reappears. Lohengrin prays that Elsa may recover her lost brother; and indeed, the swan dives into the river and appears again in the form of young Gottfried, Elsa's brother, who had been turned into the swan by Ortrud's magic arts.

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, however, and falls to the ground dead, longing for her beloved.

Parody

In 1907, Victor Herbert produced a one-act parody of Lohengrin called The Magic Knight (q.v.)

Recordings

Score

Full score downloadable at IMSLP

References

  1. Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed., 1954
  2. Performance History of Lohengrin at amadeusonline.net
  3. Elizabeth Forbes, 'Sophie Cruvelli' (short biography), [1]
Plot taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.

External links




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