Farthingale Publications

A Lancastrian hobby website of curiosities and nonesense

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Introduction

picThe superhero is an essential feature of most cultures around the world whether they are purely fictional, or have some basis in reality and been elevated to semi-saintly status by the greats of European literature or the movie moguls of Hollywood. Bruce Willis springs to mind as one modern day example in the "Die Hard" movies, closely followed by Superman, Spiderman and Batman and his sidekick Robin, unlikely characters all of them for those with little imagination, but all united in the fight against crime and the forces of evil, and not always following orthodox methods. People of my generation idolised Wyatt Earp who cleaned up the the lawless towns of the wild west from crime and corruption, in the early part of the 20th century. Cool under pressure quick on the draw when it came to a showdown with the local villains, a real life hero whose prowess and reputation were enhanced somewhat in the name of commercial gain on the big screen of the nineteen forties and fifties and in boys comics. Notable female heroins of fiction too, Superwoman, or the Marvel Comics' "The Black Widow", or the real life and more ladylike heros, Nurse Edith Caville, Violette Szabo or Grace Darling, who captured our imaginations facing grave danger and sometimes giving their lives for a cause, all of them becoming role models for generations of young people. Hero worship is not new either, our history is peppered with stories of mankind's constant struggle against the forces of evil and of the individuals who rose to the challenge, names like Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, Hereward the Wake, Robert the Bruce, Llewellyn and Trelawney have all played their part in setting the moral standards to which we aspire. Lohengrin was one such hero, a knight in shining armour from European legend of the middle ages, like his contemporary, the Saxon Ivanhoe, both formidable defenders of truth and justice and champion of the weak and oppressed. This is the stuff that dreams are made of and will endure as long as our imaginations permit. Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin relates just one of the German hero's exploits, in a fascinating tale of justice prevailing over evil, science fiction style. Like many other operas this is not a "happy ever after" feel-good story, although the devil's advocates are routed in dramatic fashion, as with all good stories there is an unexpected twist in the tail. The ending is quite sad and for some a little disappointing when both sides lose out in true Wagnerian fashion, justice has prevailed but at what cost! However, if the exciting storyline is not enough to keep you on the edge of your seat the magnificent music will. This masterpiece is brought to life by the musical genius of this composer, and whilst providing the foundation and contributing to the overall dramatic effect, some of the more notable pieces, for example the Overture, the Bridal March and King Henry's Prayer are enduring stand alone favourites, featuring regularly in many modern day concert hall programmes for orchestra and chorus alike.

Synopsis

The main characters are:-
King Henry
Duke Gottfried of Brabant
Elsa his sister
Count Telramund of Brabant
Ortrud his wife
Lohengrin Knight of the Holy Grail

The old Duke of Brabant has died and his son and heir Gottfried has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. His guardian Count Telramund and his wife Ortrud have ambitions to gain control of the Duke's estate and are engaged in a secret plot to prevent Gottfried and his sister Elsa from inheriting when they reach maturity. Telramund accuses Elsa of her brother's murder, she of course protests her innocence as indeed she is, but alone and friendless, she is powerless to resist the forces of evil reigned against her. She desperately needs a champion to help her in her hour of need and prays for deliverance.

Meanwhile King Henry arrives in Antwerp to try to quell the unrest amongst the people and rally support for its defence against an invading Hungarian army. As seems to be an accepted method of criminal justice in the middle ages, Elsa pleads with the King that her innocence should be proved by combat between her accuser Telramund and a champion of her choosing. The King agrees, but with no champion in sight prospects are looking rather dim. Elsa persists in her quest, praying constantly for a knight in shining armour to come forward to defend and free her from the Count's tyranny.

picEventually to her great surprise, Lohengrin Knight of the Holy Grail appears on the river Scheldt arriving in a boat pulled by a swan. Have her prayers been answered or is Lohengrin just passing through or here by co-incidence on a sight seeing trip? It seems rather presumptuous at this point, to assume that he is her knight in shining armour with the sole purpose of seeing justice done. However undaunted, Elsa greets him with open arms and Lohengrin agrees to champion her cause against Telramund's challenge on condition that she will never ask his name or where he comes from. As preparations are made for the trial King Henry's offers up a prayer that justice will prevail and the guilty one will be found out.

Oh lord our god be with us now, show us thy judgement clear and strong
Before thy word all men shall vow, that right may triumph over wrong

Give strength to him whose heart is true and give the guilty one his due
Lord let thy will to us be known wisdom is found in thee alone
Wisdom is found in thee alone

Give strength to him whose heart is true and give the guilty one his due
Lord let thy will to us be known wisdom is found in thee alone
Wisdom is found in thee alone

Show us thy will, show us thy holy light, do thou oh god defend the right
Oh lord our god, Oh lord our god, Oh Lord, defend the right

The outcome of the battle is of course a foregone conclusion, the legendary knight defeats Telramund but spares his life, something which he will later come to regret, you can be sure. Embarrassed and seething, Telramund skulks away with his wife, even more determined to succeed with their evil vengeful plan. The King is impressed with the prowess of the victorious Knight and having found favour in high places Lohengrin accepts the task of leading the King's army to repel the invasion should the enemy reach the border. At the same time the inevitable happens and the couple fall in love, prompting Lohengrin to ask for Elsa's hand in marriage. As the celebrations begin, Telramund enlists the help of a group of friends in their evil designs. First trying to stop the wedding by accusing the Knight of sorcery and being an imposter, then tricking Elsa into discovering the identity of the Knight. The first part of the plan fails and the King banishes Telramund and Ortrud and the wedding goes ahead, but apparently influenced by other people's malicious suggestions, eventually Elsa's curiosity starts to get the better of her and one evening she asks her spouse's name. Before he can answer, Telramund and his henchmen burst into the room to kill the couple. Grabbing his sword the Knight kills Telramund and presents his body to the King, at the same time informing him of the changed circumstances and that because of Elsa's curiosity he can no longer lead the army against the Hungarians, he must return home to the Temple of the Holy Grail. He reveals his name is Lohengrin Knight of the Holy Grail, son of Parsifal.

Later having said his goodbyes he goes to the boat drawn by the swan to return home. As Lohengrin prays the swan is transformed into Gottfried, Elsa's brother and heir to the Duke of Brabant. Ortrude is exposed as the witch responsible for turning him into a swan, and she dies of shock on seeing Gottfried re-appear. To make matters worse Elsa is stricken with grief at her own weakness and the loss of her Knight and succumbs to an early death as a consequence. Not a very satisfactory ending in some respects but perhaps this is what legends are made of, it is the middle ages after all, with its rather quaint methods of resolving disputes and seeing justice done.

Listen to King Henry's Prayer via this link

Watercolours by EMP Cumbria - Palfreyman April 2020