Wagner’s most performed opera, Lohengrin, returned to the Met this season after hiatus of 17 years. It is also the only Wagner opera we know for certain that Verdi saw in performance. This was on November 9, 1871 in Bologna. He left detailed notes on his impression of the work. The Bologna production was the first in Italy for any Wagner opera.
The subject here is the end of Act 1. Frederick of Telramund has accused Elsa of killing her brother the Duke of Brabant. King Henry the Fowler decrees the matter to be settled by trial by combat. Elsa needing a champion to fight on her behalf prays to God for such a hero. Lohengrin appears in a boat drawn by a swan. He agrees to defend her honor provided she never asks his name or history. She agrees – for now.
Lohengrin easily defeats Telramund and even spares his life. To have done otherwise would have ended the opera after just one act. This excerpt starts with the combat. The first line after the brief bout is “Durch Gottes Sieg ist jetzt dein Leben mein.” (Through God’s victory your life is now mine.) Taking Elsa by the hand, he declares her innocent. The crowd exits, cheering and celebrating – everybody except Frederick and his wife Ortrud. The cast in this recording is headed by Placido Domingo and Jessye Norman – Georg Solti conducts.
On Tuesday evening March 28, 1911 at the Metropolitan Opera, Leo Slezak sang Lohengrin with Johanna Gadski as Elsa. As he was preparing to step into the swan-shaped carriage that would propel him across the stage by cables, Slezak missed his cue and the swan left without him. Opera lore has it that the light-hearted heldentenor ran to the middle of the stage and yelled to the audience, “What time is the next swan?”