‘Lohengrin’: Seeing Through the Ether

‘Lohengrin’: Seeing Through the Ether

In the Beginning …

The seventy-five bars of the Lohengrin Vorspiel conjure up the singular musical theme and increasingly more perceptible vision of the Grail ‘out of the clear blue ether of the sky’, as Wagner related in his programme notes written for a Zurich concert performance in 1853 (Ernest Newman, The Wagner Operas, Princeton, 1949, 127). Wagner went on to describe the miracle as ‘radiating fiery beams and shaking the soul with emotion’. As this remarkable Prelude unfolds into the auditorium with ever-increasing energy, it seems to illuminate the space; it is transformative power transmitted through sound. Despite his own eloquent attempt to assign a programme to this ultimately indescribable musical moment, Wagner was the least literal of artists, as evidenced by his plea in ‘A Communication to My Friends’ (1851) to focus on the deep structure and rich symbolism inherent in all of his works (Richard Wagner’s Prose Works, tr. and ed. William Ashton Ellis, 8 vols, London, 1892–9; facsimile repr. 1993-5, [PW], i.333–6). Wagner’s thoughts on this were most extensively documented in his theoretical magnum opus, ‘Opera and Drama’ (1851), in which he explained how myths form, function and evolve over time, and his expectation that subsequent generations would reinterpret all myths, including those of his own creation, in light of their own time and place (PW, ii.152–78).

Scholars such as Mary Cicora have argued persuasively that Wagner’s philosophy of art, as detailed in ‘Opera and Drama’, was a precursor of post–World War II Derridean deconstruction and the poststructuralist movement which promoted alternative interpretations and remains the bedrock of contemporary art and society (Modern Myths and Wagnerian Deconstructions: Hermeneutic Approaches to Wagner’s Music-Dramas, Westport, CT, and London, 2000, 207–10). Poststructuralists hold that all artwork accommodates and transitions between multiple meanings. The author’s communications (via the work of art) are subject to the same natural evolutionary ebb and flow of meaning as are those of his audiences. This point concerning the author was made especially powerfully by the poststructuralist pioneer Roland Barthes, in his seminal 1967 essay The Death of the AuthorImage-Music-Text, tr. Stephan Heath, New York, 1978, 142–8). Barthes’s observation that the author is, figuratively, ‘dead’, in the sense that he cannot now, or ever could, ‘set’ the one true meaning for his work, is an essential principle underlying all deconstructions. Nothing is fixed; there is complete relativity in everything. Structures are ultimately mutable and indeterminate; only change is constant and provides the energy that drives life and artistic interpretation.

‘Wer ist der Gral?’

Examining the Lohengrin Prelude under a poststructuralist lens, we echo the question of the ‘pure fool’ to Gurnemanz in Wagner’s final Grail-myth work, Parsifal: ‘Who is the Grail?’ Who, or what, is being so powerfully described in the Prelude that begins either of these works? Christian tradition, the belief system of most of Wagner’s contemporary audience, held the Grail to be the cup that contained the blood of Jesus Christ at the Last Supper and therefore was imbued with spiritual powers for members of that faith. The search to recover this mystical relic after the crucifixion of Christ was the subject of numerous popular legends throughout the Middle Ages. On a deeper level, the Grail is a miraculous receptacle and is therefore a symbolic reference to the life-giving force of the feminine, just as the spear of Longinus, believed to have wounded Christ on the cross, refers to masculine power. It follows, then, that the Grail has always carried connotations of specifically female aspects of the sacred. Indeed, the earliest known Palaeolithic formulations of the divine in Europe were female-centric, and pre–Bronze Age Europeans generally celebrated deities of predominantly female or of mixed gender characteristics, thus making the ‘sexing’ of God and representations of the divine, such as the Grail, either female or of indeterminate gender.

In her classic 2007 study of European prehistoric artifacts, the archaeologist and founder of the field of archaeomythology, Marija Gimbutas, concluded that the cultures of ‘Old Europe’ (i.e. southeastern Europe c.6500–3500 BC) constituted a relatively homogeneous community that served as the cradle of modern European civilisation, and that this was primarily a female-oriented society characterised by a universal worship of a hybrid creator deity which she dubbed the ‘Great Goddess’ (The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2007, 17–36, 152–200, 236–8). To these early peoples, the male was seen as life-stimulating but the female represented life-generating power. Her widely accepted central finding was that these early religious systems imbued female deities with powers that were later reserved for male figures. The Great Goddess figure represented in art throughout the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods was a complex deity incorporating both male and female characteristics and was the supreme god of Old Europe. The androgynous nature of the Great Goddess was more pronounced in early representations, and as the image evolved through the Neolithic period it took on increasingly more female features. With the coming of Indo-European peoples into the region and the advent of the Bronze Age (c.3500–1100 BC), gynocentric social order and its associated emphasis on goddess worship was gradually replaced by more male-dominant social systems as reflected in the emergence of a male-oriented mythology and emphasis on masculine creator deities. By the time of the Classical era mythology of ancient Greece (starting at around 800 BC), this substitution of a male-oriented religion for the female-dominant deities of earlier epochs was complete.

Gurnemanz does not correct Parsifal’s ‘Wer’ (Who) to ‘Was’ (What); he only replies that the identity of the Grail is a mystery. So, based also on the evidence from his final work, Parsifal, which germinated, like Lohengrin, from the medieval source material which Wagner read during his famous 1845 summer ‘rest cure’ in Marienbad, we must consider that this force, known as the Grail and musically depicted so prominently in both works, relates to a character. It would be entirely consistent with the symbolic connotations of the Grail in Christianity as well as in far older formulations of the divine in prehistory, that if it is indeed a character, it may well be a female. In the works of Wagner, as so often in 19th-century art, male protagonists drive the arguments, but female characters provide the solutions. We need only reflect on the all-important redemptive power of Wagner’s heroines to realise that wisdom, revolution and devotion, as specifically represented by his unique concept of the feminine, was central to his world view. At first glance, Lohengrin appears to be the only exception among the tragic works to this rule, but, on careful inspection with the benefit of a ‘close read’ powered by poststructuralist principles of analysis, Wagner’s earlier ‘swan opera’ is seen to fit the pattern perfectly.

We examine the evidence that the Grail in Lohengrin, consistent with Wagner’s score and text and as illuminated in the current Yuval Sharon production at Bayreuth, can be interpreted as the feminine force represented by Elsa and Ortrud operating in a male-dominated technology-controlled world, transitioning into a posthuman future state in which blind acceptance of that technology and its advocates (as represented in the Sharon production by the mysterious ‘electrifier’, Lohengrin) threatens to overpower evidence-driven understanding. Woven into this parable of a near-future Huxleyian ‘Brave New World’ is gender bias and the ‘othering’ of all those outside the mainstream culture. Furthermore, such an interpretation is consistent with Wagner’s concerns about the dawning ‘Machine Age’ technology revolution of his time, as represented by the rapid adoption of the steam engine and the domestication of electric power.

Elsa and Ortrud versus Lohengrin: A Battle of Alternatives

During the first century of its stage history, Lohengrin was considered to be the ‘tenor’s opera’, in recognition of both the magnificence of the title role and of how the drama was understood; it was interpreted from a male-centric perspective with the hero being the focus as the peerless knight in shining armour descended from the heavens to rescue a damsel in distress who, afterwards, due to her flawed character and under the influence of evil forces, tragically betrays him. In part owing to the ‘wake-up calls’ from two devastating world wars and the subsequent emergence of an artistic interpretative tradition based on the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, predicated on the search for alternative meanings, coupled with a growing appreciation of feminine perspectives, directors over the past half-century have often seen the opera as a more complex, darker tale and have re-evaluated the nature of the characters and the dynamics between them. Instead, the work is now more often seen as a parable for a world in crisis, more akin to our own or that of a near future than to some vaguely medieval fairytale realm, and the focus is more squarely on Elsa and the error of the ‘Frageverbot’ demanded by a hero who unreasonably expects blind faith. The current production by Yuval Sharon and his team at Bayreuth is certainly part of this latter, postwar tradition.

Inspired by the Sharon production, we re-examine the storyline and how the character triad of Ortrud, Elsa and Lohengrin might function. The musically very important roles of Telramund, King Henry and the Herald, as well as the large contributions of the chorus of Saxon and Brabantian citizenry, all clearly serve the drama primarily as powerful representatives of societal norms. However, brief note must be made of the four noble retainers of Telramund as these characters raise an important interpretative question. Are these four villains or are they rebels who conscientiously reject the societal impulse to wage an unjustified new war and, like Ortrud and Elsa, will not follow Lohengrin simply based on blind faith? They signal, as so often in Wagner, that hero and villain status is generally a matter of perspective, and that ‘type casting’ of the main characters, likewise, will be limiting.


In the pre-Ring Wagnerian musical universe, Ortrud is the composer’s most complexly drawn character, and how she is interpreted will drive how we understand Lohengrin. We know very little about her directly, except that she is royal (i.e. superior in social status) and a worshipper of the ‘old gods’. It is striking that all of the characters, including her husband, Telramund, label her as ‘evil’. In the concluding ensemble of Act I she muses in an aside that ‘unless I can defeat him [Lohengrin] my hopes will be in vain’, and, although that is generally understood as her desire to elevate herself to the throne of Brabant, it can also refer to a selfless hope to educate the ‘foolish’ (citing Ortrud’s descriptor) trusting dreamer, Elsa. Does an objective evaluation of Ortrud’s behaviours confirm her as malevolent? There are two actions upon which to base our judgment: she will not blindly believe in Lohengrin and therefore urges Elsa to likewise question, and, at the end of the opera, she admits to having ‘cast a spell’ on Elsa’s brother Gottfried that removed him from the scene. Her inclination to doubt can be seen as rational and adaptive for survival and not necessarily driven by ulterior motives. Ortrud has sometimes been viewed as an ‘evil mother’ figure, perhaps even reflecting Wagner’s ambivalence towards his own difficult mother. Although prompting Elsa to question before accepting does certainly resemble the advice a mother would give to a daughter, it does not necessarily mark that maternal figure as malevolent. The identification of Ortrud as Elsa’s de facto mother is further supported by the apparent long-standing close familiarity of the two women as evidenced by how readily Elsa accepts Ortrud back into the Kemenate in Act II and embraces her as a key member of the wedding party. As for Ortrud’s removal of Gottfried before the start of the opera, we cannot judge that action in the absence of knowledge of the character of Gottfried. Did Ortrud, perhaps owing to her maternal relationship also with Gottfried, have unique insights into the boy’s character that prompted her action? It is projected onto Ortrud that she is depriving Brabant of its rightful and just ruler, but we do not know anything at all about Gottfried except that, as would be expected, his faithful, unquestioning sister bemoans his absence. We know that Lohengrin and the king advocate the start of a new war and applaud Gottfried’s return to rule, and perhaps sending a warmongering ill-equipped prince away for a while was a service and not an offence both to the boy and to this community. In support of this hypothesis, recall that Gottfried was transformed into a swan, and although this animal is widely regarded as a symbol of gentleness and purity, its true status in the natural world is as one of the most aggressive and powerful of birds. We note that the all-powerful seducer Zeus appeared to Lela disguised as a swan, and this Greek myth was well known to Wagner.

Ortrud is clearly a powerful figure, and that power resides in her superior wisdom which she self identifies as ‘prophetic’. There is ample evidence that she truly believes Lohengrin to be evil, and in her impassioned plea to her ancient gods in Act II, Scene 2 (‘Entweihte Götter’) she labels the blindly obedient Elsa as ‘delusional’ for believing in this false prophet. Any mother would certainly protect an unwitting child from such a perceived unworthy suitor. When Ortrud concludes her tirade by imploring her gods to ‘bless my deceit’, the initial reaction of the audience is to recoil in horror, but is deception not a legitimate battle strategy? Military campaigns throughout history are based on such tactics, and the victorious generals in charge of them are lauded as heroes and exemplars of their profession. The other explanation for shuddering at Ortrud’s outburst has to do with her rejection of the prevalent Christian faith and her worship, instead, of the ‘old gods’. Ortrud’s unorthodox religious beliefs, as well as her uniqueness as a powerful woman who questions ‘miracles’ in a world dominated by less competent men, make her an easy target to demonise and persecute. Wagner made it clear that he did not view Lohengrin as some sort of religious pageant celebrating Christianity – his interest in setting the story lay firmly in its symbolic, mythic power (‘A Communication to My Friends’, PW i.333–4). Thus the Christian God of the court of King Henry and his allies versus the Norse pagan gods of Ortrud does not have literal significance; rather the point to be made is that Ortrud, the mysterious wise woman who lives hidden deep in the forest, holds a belief system anchored in primordial deities more clearly and simply wedded to observable nature, and such worship is in stark contrast to the latter-day dogmatic and more complex belief system of everyone else which is predicated on faith and miracles.



Joachim Köhler’s 2004 biography of Richard Wagner provides compelling evidence that the composer viewed Elsa as the most central role in Lohengrin (Richard Wagner: The Last of the Titans, tr. Stewart Spencer, New Haven, CT, and London, 2004, 192–211). The composer had his favourite niece, the singer Johanna Wagner, in mind for the role of Elsa, which he described to his brother and her father, Albert, in an August 1845 letter as ‘the principal role in the work’ and that it was ‘bound to turn out the most attractive and moving in the world’ (ibid, 193). For Wagner, his beloved sister, Rosalie, was indelibly fused in his mind with the character of Elsa, as the entry of 11 November 1880 in Cosima Wagner’s diaries documents: referring to both Rosalie and Elsa, he says that in Lohengrin ‘all the scenic splendour and the majesty of the music [existed] only to throw light on the unique merits of this one heart’ (ibid, 209 –11).  Given this perspective on Elsa, together with the unparalleled (pre-Ring) musical adventurousness and dramatic power of Ortrud’s role, we are given further reason to question the characterisation of Lohengrin as ‘the tenor’s opera’. It is entirely possible that the combination of the female lead characters Elsa and Ortrud – the former being the persecuted naive, loving, sensitive soul who learns how to question through the tutelage of the latter world-wise mother figure – represents the human ideal in this cold patriarchal posthuman world of Lohengrin. Elsa’s innate intelligence is evident even in Act I as she is being subjected to an inquisition reminiscent of a medieval witch trial and then saved from the pyre by the mysterious stranger. Although in a desperate situation and totally dependent on her rescuer, as staged by Sharon in 2018 she appears curious how Lohengrin can profess love so quickly upon seeing her. Elsa learns quickly in that it only takes a few prompts from Ortrud in Act II to waken her to full consciousness from her prior dream state of blind trust. As her husband attempts to complete his knowledge of her as exemplified by his attempted sexual consummation of their marriage on their wedding night in Act III, Elsa understandably needs to first know him. Her escalating interrogation of him is reasonable and only becomes strident as her suspicions grow with his ever more striking deflections from her logical argument. Wagner has given us in Elsa a model of the gifted student of a skilled teacher, and both these ideals of pupil and instructor are feminine. As would happen again, in the Ring when Brünnhilde assimilates the agency of the Ur-Mother Erda, in Lohengrin also feminine wisdom drives the revolution and provides the solution to the dilemma created by masculine power.


Lohengrin is an amalgam character with multivalent resonances. He is all at the same time the otherworldly unknowable artist–hero, a reflection of an unattainable futuristic perfection, the standard bearer for male dominance, the idealised lover and the god Zeus descending in thunder and lightning down to earth to woo the mortal Semele. Lohengrin, this character who tolerates no questions, is himself an enigma, and thus provides especially fertile ground for alternative interpretations.

In ancient Greek mythology, as always a starting point for Wagner, we note that it is the incestuous union of Uranus or Father Sky with Gaia or Mother Earth that gives birth to the race of Titan gods of which Zeus is an offspring and the chief representative. This is paralleled in Norse mythology and in the creation myths of most ancient peoples. Indeed, this tradition of godly incest is perpetuated in Classical Greek mythology as Zeus marries his sister, Hera. Could Lohengrin as a representation of Zeus be committing incest with Elsa, and Ortrud – either as the actual mother of one or both of these characters, or as the symbolic (following psychoanalytic interpretation) archetypal Mother figure – be attempting to prevent such an act? Ortrud clearly abhors the union of Elsa with Lohengrin, but it is unclear as to why her reaction is so strong. Such a possibility adds new insight to the dynamic between the three characters, and further thwarts simplistic ‘stock villain’ interpretations of Ortrud and traditional heroic readings of Lohengrin.

Examination of Lohengrin’s ‘Frageverbot’ edict (beginning with the line ‘Nie sollst du mich befragen’, literally translated as ‘Never shall you ask me’) also reveals problems that provide possible further insight into his character. At his entrance in Act I, Lohengrin publically proclaims, not just privately to Elsa, that his identity must remain hidden. Therefore, even though his edict is directed at Elsa, it is reasonable to conclude that anyone, not only Elsa, who questions his identity, could be violating his condition and thus undermining his power. He does not initially make it clear that he is only obliged to answer questions from Elsa. (It is important to note that Ortrud, alone, does understand this condition, as revealed in her Act II, Scene 1, discussion with Telramund.) It is not until the mid-point of the opera, during the procession confrontation in Act II, that he clarifies for all how his injunction operates. At the threshold of the altar he refuses to answer questions from Telramund about his origins, saying that the doubts of an evil man can be disregarded. In that same moment he announces that he would likewise not be required to answer the king. It is then that he further stipulates that he need only answer to Elsa. Why this sudden new condition, or, at least, sudden clarification? It may be that he senses by this point that he already controls Elsa, and therefore he is confident that she will never ask. Why this secrecy if he intends to enter into a true union with his bride? In myth as in life, understanding is power, and knowing the name of the hero is symbolic for being unified in the power of that hero. Evidently, Lohengrin has no desire to truly share himself and relinquish any control, and if viewed in this manner, he becomes markedly less attractive as a character. Potentially more disturbing is the second line of his ‘Frageverbot’, ‘noch Wissens Sorge tragen’, which can be loosely translated as ‘nor trouble yourself to know’. Depending on how this line is delivered, it may signify an attempt by Lohengrin at thought control. So, a full appreciation of his edict, whether just directed to Elsa or meant for the entire assemblage, might be far more sinister and inappropriate than previously suspected, i.e. ‘do not ask me who I am and do not be bothered that you do not know!’ When Lohengrin does finally reveal his identity in the Act III Grail Narration (‘In fernem Land’), he still does not answer the question as to why a knight of the Grail cannot be doubted. The second section of the narration, which Wagner early on decided to discard, based on reasons of dramatic flow, does not shed any light on this issue either; it explains how Parsifal lifted the spell from the swan and how it would have guided any knight of the order to Elsa. If anything, this missing set of lines makes Lohengrin appear somewhat robotic and less unique.

Finally, our growing sense of Lohengrin as a robotic, cold, posthuman ‘machine’ is supported by reflection on how he is described by other characters and in the music. He is heralded nearly always with brass fanfares that emphasise his larger-than-life, superhuman dimension, or by ethereal high strings (as at his entrance) that underscore his unnatural ‘otherworldliness’. Ortrud relates in Act II that denting his perfection, by even ‘cutting off the tip of a finger’ would defeat the programming of this machine. His immediate declaration of ‘I love you’ when Elsa accepts his unreasonable conditions in Act I resembles the response of a robot. Any new technology, like electromagnetic power in Wagner’s day, is intimidating and mysterious to the general public, and so it is with Lohengrin, who is as much an enigma as he leaves the stage as he was when he entered it.

Posthuman Crisis and Wagner’s Views on Science

Central to Sharon’s Lohengrin production is its dramaturgical concept based on Wagner’s critiques of science and technology in his own era and his alarm at the blind acceptance by his contemporaries of these incompletely understood technologies. Critiques by Wagner and other 19th-century intellectuals presaged the bioethical controversies surrounding our current transhumanism movement, which perceives the threat of a technologically determined definition of personhood. Such critics, then and now, view the transhuman trajectory veering ever more dangerously close to the negative extreme of posthumanism where humans do not control their technology, but rather their technology controls them (Susan Schneider, ‘Future Minds: Transhumanism, Cognitive Enhancement, and the Nature of Persons’, The Penn Center Guide to Bioethics, ed. Vardit Ravitsky, Autumn Fiester and Arthur L. Caplan, New York, 2009, 95–102). Such a vision is in line with Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World, first published in 1932, with its futuristic ‘World State of the Controllers’, or with the direst predictions of the social philosopher Francis Fukuyama, in his 2002 work, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York, 2002, 12). Perhaps nothing has ever made dread of the posthuman more palpable than Mary Shelley’s horror novel, Frankenstein, the classic of Romantic literature published in Wagner’s lifetime, which told of the creation of a monstrosity through electromagnetic re-animation of the dead. Concerns about the potential consequences of an unbridled rule of science and technology have always been especially prominently voiced as milestones in human technological progress have been reached, and the widespread deployment of the steam engine and the harnessing of electrical power were the two such nodal points in Wagner’s time.

Wagner’s concerns about the potential posthumanist threat posed by scientific and technologic advances have been summarised by Joachim Thiery and Ulrich Tröhler (‘Wagner, animals, and modern scientific medicine’, The Wagner Compendium: A Guide to Wagner’s Life and Music, ed. Barry Millington, London, 1992, 174–7). Although Wagner held deplorable prejudices, of which his anti-Semitism is the most striking and well known, his philosophical musings embraced the tenet that all sentient beings are valued as having a spiritual dimension. Thiery and Tröhler have captured Wagner’s perspective on these subjects best: ‘We are entirely justified in speaking of a Wagnerian cosmology of compassion”, in graphic contrast to which the composer saw the civilisation of his day beset by an unfeeling, technologically orientated utilitarianism increasingly geared to a state that was addicted to militaristic expansionism’ (ibid., 176). Wagner first voiced these concerns in the late 1850s, as represented by a key letter to Mathilde Wesendonck on 1 October 1858, and they were considerably developed in his opposition to vivisection on practical, ethical and philosophical grounds in his ‘Open Letter’ to Ernst von Weber in the October 1879 edition of the Bayreuther Blätter (‘Open Letter to Herr Ernst von Weber, author of The Torture Chambers of Science’, PW, vi.193–210). With regard to non-medical scientific pursuits, despite the often sceptical opinions he expressed on some of the inventions of the day, Wagner’s views were similarly nuanced and cannot be simplistically dismissed as ‘anti-science’. Simply stated, Wagner opposed any science or technology that he could not directly correlate with improvement of the human condition. In 1849 he crystallised his thinking on scientific progress in general with the statement ‘science is the human intellect’s ultimate power, but the enjoyment of that power is art’ (Thiery and Tröhler, 177–9, esp. 177).

As documented by Thierry and Tröhler, there are many instances of Wagner’s railing against what he saw as the questionable products of the Industrial Revolution, among these his critique of coal mining as an insult to nature, his opposition to the destruction of the environment by the railways, and his suspicion of electrical power as being incompletely tested and unnatural. Indeed, electricity was especially mysterious to 19th-century society, as it was an unseen force whose nature, like that of Lohengrin, was unknown and therefore subject to wide and wild speculation (Graeme Gooday, Domesticating Electricity: Technology, Uncertainty and Gender, 1880–1914, London, 2008, 37–59). Wagner summed up his general concern about the technology of his day with his comment about early models of the phonograph and the societal frenzy to embrace that new technology with his observation that ‘people were turning themselves into machines’ (Thiery and Tröhler, 179). His concerns about scientific and technological advances were prophetic, and clearly expressed in his 1880 essay ‘Religion and Art’ (PW, vi.211–52, esp. 250–52). He charged that all of this ‘progress’ was fuelled by militarism, and that if not tempered by higher ethical and moral principles, it would lead to the debasement, devaluation and ultimately, destruction of life. Wagner worried that man was becoming controlled by his machines and that the human of the future might become little more than a soulless machine himself. Today we live in the age of artificial ‘intelligence’ and ‘machine learning’, i.e. machines that are considered ‘intelligent’ in that they can process information in a manner which mimics that of a human brain – the posthuman future may be very near.

Our Continuing Search for the Grail

In the Sharon Lohengrin production, Elsa and Ortrud take centre-stage in opposing blind obedience to the edicts and the secular might through machines as represented by Lohengrin and the dominant male figures who rule their society. One can see these women as spiritual and enlightenment forces, even representations of the divine, who are ‘othered’ by their society as they attempt to bring reason to a world hurtling toward senseless conflict. They are, in this production, representations of the elusive Grail, but, as we have learned, all meaning is relative and the search for the essence of this, like any artistic work, is a function of the intersection of time, place and audience. So, the search for meaning will continue production by production, generation by generation, and person by person. This beloved Wagnerian fairytale has kept its secrets, like the swan knight himself, shrouded from view, and we have had to scrape away ages of accumulated bias to see new interpretative possibilities through the shimmering haze. Likewise, it is essential that, away from the theatre, we question conventional explanations, weigh evidence and recognise the heroines and heroes that elevate our common human condition. This is the enduring message of Lohengrin; it is the awe-inspiring energy of collective humanity’s ongoing quest for understanding that we glimpse through the mists as the light of the Grail.

A shorter version of this article appeared in the Bayreuther Festspiele programme for Lohengrin (2019). We are grateful for permission to reproduce the text.

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