The Search for Redemption
The opera begins with a prelude and an ethereal theme that represents the divine figure of the knight Lohengrin. The story is above all that of the humanization of Lohengrin's divinity. The first act centers on the falsely accused Elsa, the evil Friedrich of Telramund and the divine knight, Lohengrin, inspired by the innocence of Elsa. This is Lohengrin's chance to experience human happiness, love and with that love to suffer and experience fear, but it depends on Elsa's vow to not question Lohengrin about his origin or name. In his action for her, defeating Friedrich, Lohengrin seeks redemption through Elsa, but she does not realize what he is asking. In the second act we begin to see her lack of understanding as Ortrud warns her that she could lose the knight just as quickly as he appeared. As Elsa does not develop understanding even in marriage she does not trust him enough to obey him and by asking the forbidden questions loses him. What seems, at the close of the first act to be a celebratory work becomes in the end a tragedy of loss of love and innocence. The ending leaves Elsa to face life without Lohengrin who must return to his divine realm.
Lyric Opera of Chicago's production of this gem, that Roger Pines describes in the program notes as "Wagner's Bel Canto opera", is effective from the orchestra under the directing of Sir Andrew Davis to the singers led by Emily Magee (Elsa), Lohengrin (Johan Botha) and Ortrud (Michaela Schuster), and the chorus. The set combined with the ethereal and lyrical music becomes ineffable. With this opera Wagner reached a level of musicianship that would soon lead to Tristan and the other great masterpieces of his final years.