Lohengrin is a romantic opera (or music drama) in three acts by Richard Wagner, who also wrote the libretto. The first production was in Weimar, Germany on 28 August 1850. The story of the eponymous character is taken from medieval German romance, notably the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach and its anonymous sequel, Lohengrin. It is part of the Knight of the Swan tradition.
Lohengrin was an immediate popular success. Several excerpts have become famous, including the preludes to the first and third acts, Lohengrin's aria In fernem Land, and the Bridal Chorus, which is traditionally played at Western weddings, and is commonly known as "Here Comes the Bride."
Among those deeply moved by the fairy-tale opera was the young King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who later built the ideal fairy-tale castle and called it, after the Swan Knight, "New Swan Stone," or "Neuschwanstein". The opening scene of the opera may be interpreted as a thinly veiled exhortation to Ludwig to unite Germany under his own flag. It was King Ludwig's patronage that later gave Wagner the means and opportunity to build a theatre for, compose and stage his Ring of the Nibelung.
King Henry the Fowler has arrived in Brabant and assembles the German tribes to expel the Hungarians from his dominions. Count Telramund acts as regent for Duke Gottfried of Brabant, who is a minor, and brother to Elsa. Gottfried has mysteriously disappeared, and incited by his wife, Ortrud, Telramund accuses Elsa of her brother's murder. He also demands the dukedom. Elsa appears, surrounded by her attendants. Knowing herself innocent, she declares that she is willing to submit to the judgment of God by the ordeal of combat. She chooses as her champion a knight she has beheld in her dreams. (Narrative: "Alone in dark days.") She sinks to her knees and prays God to send her relief. Telramund, at the behest of the king, accepts the gage of battle. The Herald at first calls in vain upon the unknown knight, but when he calls the second time a miracle takes place. A boat appears on the river, drawn by a swan. In it is a knight in shining armour, he lands, dismisses the swan, respectfully greets the king and asks Elsa if she will have him as her champion. Elsa kneels to him and places her honour in his keeping. He makes but one condition. Never shall she ask him who he is or from whence he comes. Elsa agrees to this, prayers are said, and the place of combat is prepared. Telramund is conquered. The victor grants him his life, and taking Elsa by the hand, declares her innocence, and asks her hand in marriage.
The courtyard outside the cathedral. It is night. Telramund and Ortrud, who have been banished, appear in wretched garments. Ortrud endeavours to reanimate Telramund's courage. She is a heathen, the daughter of Radbod, the duke of Frisia, and deals in magic. She schemes to induce Elsa to ask Lohengrin the forbidden questions. When Elsa appears on the balcony in the light of the morning, she sees Ortrud and pities her. Telramund unobserved retires into the shadow of a house. The populace assembles and the Herald announces that the king has made Lohengrin Duke of Brabant, which title he refuses and wishes to be known only as "Guardian of Brabant." As the king, Lohengrin, Elsa and her attendants are about to enter the church, Ortrud, clad in magnificent attire, appears and accuses Lohengrin of being a magician, whose name Elsa herself does not know. Telramund also appears and claims to have been vanquished by fraud, as he does not know the name of his opponent. Lohengrin refuses to reveal his identity, saying that one only has the right to know his origin. To Elsa alone will he answer. Elsa assures him of her confidence, and they enter the church.
The bridal chamber. Elsa and Lohengrin are ushered in with the well-known bridal chorus. They express their love for each other, but Ortrud's words are impressed upon Elsa, and, despite Lohengrin's warning, she asks the fatal question. Telramund rushes in to attack the knight, but is slain by Lohengrin, who 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 Lohengrin defends his act. 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, he has only tarried to prove Elsa's innocence. 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 Gottfried, Elsa's brother, who had been turned into a swan by Ortrud's magic arts. A dove descends from heaven, and taking the place of the swan leads Lohengrin in his boat back to the castle of the Holy Grail.
Plot taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.
CD recordings of Lohengrin