Lohengrin was an immediate popular success. 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 3), and the Bridal Chorus "Treulich geführt" from Act III, Scene 1 -- commonly known as "Here Comes the Bride."
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 build a theatre for, compose and stage his epic cycle, the Ring of the Nibelung.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, August 28, 1850|
(Conductor: Franz Liszt)
|Elsa of Brabant||soprano||Rosa Agathe von Milde|
|Ortrud, Telramund's wife||mezzo-soprano||Fastlinger|
|Friedrich of Telramund, a Count of Brabant||baritone||Feodor 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|
King Henry the Fowler has arrived in Brabant where he has assembled the German tribes in order to expel the Hungarians from his dominions. Count Telramund acts as regent for Duke Gottfried of Brabant, a minor and brother to Elsa. Gottfried has mysteriously disappeared and Telramund, incited by his wife, Ortrud, accuses Elsa of murdering her brother and demands that she give him the dukedom.
Elsa appears surrounded by her attendants and, knowing herself innocent, declares that she is willing to submit to the judgment of God through the ordeal of combat. Elsa chooses a knight she has beheld in her dreams as her champion(Narrative: "Alone in dark days.") and sinks to her knees and prays that God send her relief. Telramund, at the behest of the king, agrees to fight.
At first, the Herald calls upon the unknown knight in vain. When he calls the second time, however, a miracle takes place. 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 and the combat area is prepared. After everyone apart from Ortrud has prayed, the combat commences. Telramund is defeated, but the victor grants him his life. Taking Elsa by the hand, the unknown knight declares her as innocent and asks for her hand in marriage.
When Elsa appears on the balcony in the light of the morning, she sees Ortrud and takes pity upon her. Telramund, unobserved, retires into the shadow of a house. The populace assembles and the Herald announces that the king has offered to make the unnamed knight the Duke of Brabant. He refuses the title, however, and requests to be known only as "Guardian of Brabant."
As the king, the Knight, Elsa and her attendants are about to enter the church, Ortrud, clad in magnificent attire, appears and accuses the Guardian of Brabant of being a magician. Telramund also appears. He claims to have been vanquished by fraud, as he does not know the name of his opponent, and neither does the wife-to-be herself. Lohengrin 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 and they enter the church together. Telramund, however, has managed to recruit four knights to his cause.
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 lo! 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.
The most obvious cultural impact of Lohengrin is the "Bridal Chorus", instantly recognized by millions as a common Western bridal processional tune (and often referred to as "Here Comes the Bride"). Some religious sects object to use of the tune, variously because it is not religious in nature, the inherent eroticism of the entry into the bridal chamber, or because of Wagner's personal beliefs. It is, at the least, a curious choice for wedding music, considering the quick failure of the marriage of Lohengrin and Elsa.
Plot taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.