WAGNER: Lohengrin

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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)


The legends, which eventually resulted in the operasTannhauser and Lohengrin, came to the notice ofWagner while he was in Paris in 1841. In the summer of1845 the composer returned to the Lohengrin story,briefly told in Wolfram von Eschenbach's poemParzival, and in fuller detail in an anonymousthirteenth-century German poem entitled Lohengrin anda French epic Le Chevalier au Cygne. Having drafted aprose scenario for a possible opera after returning toDresden on 3rd August, Wagner then set aboutconstructing the poem which he completed by 27thNovember. By 1846 he began composition on the work,starting with the Third Act first, then the First, and thenthe Second (which was completed by 30th July), finallyfinishing with the opening Prelude for the opera, thewhole complete draft being finished on 29th August.

(He had realised from the beginning that the middle actwould prove the most problematic.) The work wasfinished in full score by 28th April 1848. Six monthslater the composer conducted a concert performance ofthe Finale of the First Act.

Lohengrin was the last opera in which the composercould bring himself to make use of the moreconventional operatic expression; the stage is alive withcrowded scenes and awkward-looking trumpet-players,the chorus contributes much onlooker's comment, andthere are occasional ensembles for solo voices. Theopera was conceived as a drama in historical termsbetween Christianity and Paganism. Lohengrinrepresents the former, Ortrud (Wagner's own creation)and her husband Telramund the latter. Heinrich is thehistorical Henry the Fowler, King of Saxony andchampion of German unity against the invadingHungarians. Elsa of Brabant is accused of the abductionand murder of her brother Gottfried, heir to the BrabantKingdom. Her defender, a mysterious Knight, arrives inthe swan-drawn boat, defeats her accuser Telramund,egged on by Ortrud, and claims Elsa as his bride. Shemust not ask him to reveal his identity. The villainousOrtrud is determined to find the name of Elsa's husbandand demands she ask the forbidden question. Havingslain Telramund in self-defence, the Knight announceshe is Lohengrin, the son of Parsifal, a Knight of theHoly Grail at Montsalvat in Spain. At the end the swan,which had been transformed by Ortrud's witchcraft, isrestored as Gottfried.

Wagner's part in the Dresden revolt of 1849obliged him to flee the Saxon state. Furthermore, theintended premi?â?¿re was removed from the schedule ofthe Court Opera. At the composer's request, Lohengrinwas first produced at the Court Theatre in Weimar on28th August 1850 under the direction of Liszt, whileWagner had taken refuge in Switzerland. The orchestracomprised 38 players, and the initial reception wasmuted, with the opera not taken up elsewhere. It waseventually given in Vienna in 1861, and later seen inLondon, Milan and St Petersburg. Thereafter it hasremained among the composer's most performedworks.

Lohengrin has been popular with film-makers since1902, the year when a three-minute silent sequence wasused in a black and white film. A fifty-minute silentGerman adaptation appeared in 1916 when live singersand orchestral forces were used to accompanyscreenings. In 1947 a more expanded Italian-languagefilm was directed by Max Calandri and ran for morethan a hundred minutes. It employed a cast of actorsmiming to a separate cast of singers for the soundtrack.

The Bayreuth Festival, Wagner's own creation, was75 years old in 1951. The opera house re-opened itsdoors, after closure since 1944, on 29th July 1951 with aperformance of Beethoven's Choral Symphony underWilhelm Furtwangler (1886-1954). The occasion wasrecorded by EMI who were also to record Herbert vonKarajan (1908-1989) in Die Meistersinger vonN?â??rnberg and the Ring cycle under producer WalterLegge and engineer Robert Beckett. The new artisticdirectors of the Festival, Wagner's grandsons, Wieland(1917-1966) and Wolfgang (b. 1919), were alsoapproached by EMI's British rival, the Decca RecordCompany, through its German partner, Teldec, to recordParsifal and the Ring cycle under HansKnappertsbusch. Decca sent the producer John Culshawand engineer Kenneth Wilkinson to undertake theirrecordings, making use of Teldec's equipment. Whenthe two companies returned to Britain, it was foundtheir respective labours were fraught with problems.

EMI eventually released their Meistersinger but onlythe Third Act from Die Walk?â??re, Decca releasingParsifal only. Years later Gotterdammerung wouldeventually be issued, but not by Decca or Teldec. EMIdid not return to Bayreuth after 1951, Decca in 1953and 1955 only.

The Decca project for 1953 was to be Lohengrin ina new production by Wolfgang Wagner. There wouldbe one final dress rehearsal and four performances inwhich to make the recording. Following their 1951experiences, Culshaw and Wilkinson were again incharge of the recording. Having recorded the rehearsaland the first performance on 23rd July, however, Teldecdecided their engineers would record the final threeperformances. The upshot was that the balanceemployed by the two sets of engineers differed and thefinished edited master-tape comprised sections ofDecca's and Teldec's respective versions.

The title r?â??le in this recording of Lohengrin is sungby the German tenor Wolfgang Windgassen (1914-1974). Born in Annemasse in Switzerland, he studiedwith his father, the tenor Fritz Windgassen (1883-1963)and at the Stuttgart Conservatorium with Maria Ranzowand Alfons Fischer. His mother, also a singer, was Vallyvon der Osten, sister of the soprano Ester van der Osten.

He made his debut as Alvaro in La forza del destino atPforzheim in 1941. Four years later he joined theCompany in Stuttgart where he would continue until hisretirement in 1972. He sang initially in the Italianrepertoire eventually taking on Tamino, Max,Hoffmann, and Florestan. His first foray in theWagnerian Heldentenor r?â??les was as Siegmund in1950-51. He appeared in the reopening season at theBayreuth Festival in 1951, continuing there until 1970.

He sang all the principal r?â??les during those years, evenif his voice was on the light side for such assignments.

He sang in Milan (1952), Paris (1954), Covent Garden(1955-56), at the Metropolitan (1957) and in SanFrancisco (1970). He was an admired Otello, alsosinging Adlor (Euryanthe), the title r?â??le in Rienzi andthe Emperor in Die Frau ohne Schatten. He was a soundmusician, capable of much sensitive singing, who pacedhimself in technically demanding singing r?â??les. In 1972he became opera director in Stuttgart. His standing asthe leading Heldentenor of his time is preserved on avariety of recordings.

Virginia-born soprano Eleanor Steber (1914-1990) made her formal debut as Senta in Der fliegendeHollander in Boston at the age of 22. After success inthe Metropolitan Opera Auditions of the Air, she madeher first appearance at the opera house as Sophie in DerRosenkavalier in December 1940. Renowned as anoutstanding Mozartian through her singing of allprincipal soprano r?â??les, she also was much admired inthe French, German and Italian repertoires. Steber alsoappeared in the title r?â??le of Arabella (1955) and asMarie in Wozzeck (1959) in the Met's first productionsin addition to the memorable creation of the title r?â??le ofSamuel Barber's Vanessa (1958). Her Europeanappearances were confined to Edinburgh (1947, withthe Glyndebourne Company), Bayreuth (1953),Florence (1954) and Salzburg (1958). She remainedwith the Met until 1963, and was a much-admiredperformer whose spontaneity, energy and versatilitywent hand in hand with a well-schooled and attractivevoice. Her London debut was on the concert platform in1964. In later years she appeared in musicals andconcerts, in addition to teaching.

The r?â??le
Disc: 1
1 Act I: Prelude
2 Act I Scene 1: Hort! Grafen, Edle, Freie von Braba
3 Act I Scene 1: Dank, Konig, dir, dass du zu richte
4 Act I Scene 2: Seht ihn! Sie naht, die hart Beklag
5 Act I Scene 2: Einsam in truben Tagen (Elsa, All T
6 Act I Scene 2: Wer hier in Gotteskampfe zu streite
7 Act I Scene 3: Nun sei bedankt, mein lieber Schwan
8 Act I Scene 3: Zum Kampf fur eine Magd zu steh'n (
9 Act I Scene 3: Nun hort! Euch, Volk und Edlen, mac
10 Act I Scene 3: Nun horet mich und achtet wohl (Her
11 Act I Scene 3: Durch Gottes Sieg ist jetzt dein Le
12 Act II Scene 1: Erhebe dich, Genossin meiner Schma
13 Act II Scene 1: Was macht dich in so wilder Klage
Disc: 2
1 Act II Scene 1: Du wilde Seherin! Wie willst du do
2 Act II Scene 2: Euch Luften, die mein Klagen (Elsa
3 Act II Scene 2: Wer ruft? Wie schauerlich und klag
4 Act II Scene 2: Entweihte Gotter, helft jetzt mein
5 Act II Scene 2: Wie kann ich solche Huld dir lohne
6 Act II Scene 3: Im Fruh'n versammelt uns der Ruf (
7 Act II Scene 3: Des Konigs Wort und Will' tu' ich
8 Act II Scene 4: Gesegnet soll sie schreiten (Choru
9 Act II Scene 4: Zuruck, Elsa! Nicht langer will ic
10 Act II Scene 4: Heil! Heil dem Konig! (Brabantines
11 Act II Scene 4: O Konig! Trugbetorte Fursten! Halt
12 Act II Scene 4: Welch ein Geheimnis muss der Held
13 Act II Scene 4: Mein Held entgeg'ne kuhn dem Unget
Disc: 3
1 Act III: Prelude
2 Act III Scene 1: Treulich gefuhrt, ziehet dahin (W
3 Act III Scene 2: Das susse Lied verhallt; wir sind
4 Act III Scene 2: Atmest du nicht mit mir die susse
5 Act III Scene 2: Hochstes Vertrau'n hast du mir sc
6 Act III Scene 2: Weh', nun is all' unser Gluck dah
7 Act III Scene 3: Heil, Konig Heinrich! (All The Me
8 Act III Scene 3: Macht Platz, macht Platz dem Held
9 Act III Scene 3: In fernem Land, unnahbar eu'ren S
10 Act III Scene 3: Mir schwankt der Boden! Welche Na
11 Act III Scene 3: Mein lieber Schwan! (Lohengrin, T
12 Act III Scene 3: Fahr' heim! Du stolzer Helde! (Or
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