[REVIEW OF CHAPTER 12, ON "LOHENGRIN," FROM "THE WAGNER EXPERIENCE" BY PAUL DAWSON-BOWLING]
PH: Let me begin by advising all readers of this review of DB's chapter on "Lohengrin" to read my essay "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried," which can be found at an earlier date in the archive of postings to this discussion forum. To read an even more complete account of my own interpretation of "Lohengrin," which includes evidence of Ludwig Feuerbach's influence on it, see my similarly titled essay at http://www.wagnersocietyflorida.org, under "Texts on Wagner." This will provide context for both my agreements and disagreements with DB's take on "Lohengrin."
P. 117: DB launches his critique of "Lohengrin" with the proposition that unlike Wagner's prior operas, we can't account for "Lohengrin" from the specific circumstances of Wagner's life: DB: " 'Lohengrin' defies attempts to locate its beginnings in Wagner's own life and experience in any expressionist sense. Generally, Wagner's dramas came into being because the scattered particles of Wagner's life and experience collected, rose up and transformed into a distinctive new creation under the compelling force of his imagination. Usually this took place in response to some identifiable set of circumstances. But 'Lohengrin' is different. Like the vision of its own Prelude, it seems to exist in its own remote realm, without any silver threads to attach it to the material world of its origins."
PH: I couldn't disagree more. How are "The Flying Dutchman" and "Tannhaeuser" any more traceable to specific events or factors in Wagner's life than "Lohengrin"? I have no sympathy for such efforts to try and explain complex works of art, whose gestation tends to be mysterious even to their creators, on the basis of specific events from the creators' lives.
P. 121-122: Here DB offers his own paraphrase of Telramund's explanation for King Henry of how he came to make an accusation of fratricide against Elsa: DB: "Telramund explains that the old king had died, leaving his children Gottfried and Elsa in his care, with the hope and half-understanding that Elsa might one day marry him. It is uncertain whether Elsa turned him down or the other way round, but in any case he has chosen to marry Ortrud, scion of a more ancient aristocracy. Telramund goes on to denounce Elsa; she had taken her brother, Gottfried, for an outing to the forest and come back alone; Gottfried was never seen again. Her confusion when questioned revealed her as to blame for his disappearance, and Telramund now accuses Elsa formally before the King of murdering her brother."
PH: Elsa rejected Henry's hand, as he himself acknowledges, but Henry in turn renounces any interest in marrying her, allegedly because he believes she committed fratricide. A bit later, when she is telling how a knight came to her in a dream, he accuses her of making a tryst with a secret lover. Furthermore, Henry prefers marriage to Ortrud because he hopes to help her restore her lost power, and thus to share it, in the kingdom, which she believes belongs now to usurpers (and, as we see later, she still worships the pagan gods Wodan and Freia, while everyone else is now Christian). In my essays on "Lohengrin" I have presented my hypothesis that Elsa is Wagner's metaphor for Eve in paradise, and that Gottfried is a metaphor for Eve's brother (and husband?) Adam. My hypothesis is that Elsa didn't commit literal fratricide, but as a figure for Eve she is the breacher of divine faith, who, in eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge and sharing it with Adam, has figuratively killed mankind by making man subject to death. Elsa's less remote and more self-evident link with Eve is that she breaks Lohengrin's prohibition against inquiring after divine knowledge, by forcing him to say where he originates, and who he is, his answer being that he is Lohengrin, a Knight of the Holy Grail. Thus Lohengrin casts Elsa aside, separating himself from her, just as the God of Genesis forced Eve and Adam out of paradise after she broke his injunction against acquiring divine knowledge.
P. 119: DB makes the following interesting proposition: "It is not the leitmotives or any web of themes that bind 'Lohengrin' together, ... , but its balance of keys and orchestral colorings."
PH: Not being able to read a score, I have no means to affirm or challenge this interesting claim. I can say however that Wagner himself wrote at least one demonstration of how a theme employed in "Lohengrin" in one place is later exploited and elaborated. This may have been a melodic fragment from the music Elsa sings while out on her balcony with Ortrud and Telramund listening below in the shadows, which Wagner later elaborates into a portion of the magnificent chorus with which Elsa approaches the minster, if memory serves. Of course "Lohengrin" does have a number of musical motifs which function as such, as for instance the iconic motif of Lohengrin's "Forbidden Question," and also the motif representing King Henry's authority, heard multiple times during Elsa's trial in Act One, upon which Wagner clearly modeled the motif of Wotan's Spear of Divine Authority and Law in the "Ring."
P. 124: Having described how Lohengrin arrived in a boat (pulled by a swan) in answer to Elsa's prayer that her dream-knight will come and defend her honor against Telramund's accusation, and how the swan parted, leaving Lohengrin behind, DB says: "He turns to Elsa and tells her that he has been sent to answer her call of distress. He is under orders to protect her, but before he can act as her champion, he must establish that she will trust herself and her fate to him. Almost fainting in a confusion of relief and ecstasy, she agrees, and Lohengrin now asks her to marry him if he is victorious in his fight for her innocence. It is not revealed whether this proposal is something required by the Grail, but it must at least be in conformity with the requirements of the Grail, because it is plain that Lohengrin will under no circumstances do anything that goes against his divine sense of Grail-related mission."
PH: Well, it is not plain that Lohengrin will do nothing to compromise his Grail-inspired mission. DB confesses towards the end of this chapter that he found no value in Wagner's retrospective ruminations on the meaning of "Lohengrin" in his essay of 1851 "A Communication to My Friends," and this is sad because DB missed a grand opportunity to answer many of the questions raised by "Lohengrin," and which DB himself raises. First, though, let me add that in another of Wagner's remarks from an earlier letter which you will find in my anthology of Wagner's writings and recorded remarks, posted here at wagnerheim.com, Wagner said that it is a condition of Grail service that its knight remain celibate, and that therefore Lohengrin's offer of marriage to Elsa is disquieting. In my own interpretation I note that Wagner stated in several places that Lohengrin in a sense seeks redemption from the abstract, cold sterility of the Grail Realm by seeking marriage with Elsa. So, both Elsa and Lohengrin are in this together, and both need redemption through the other. This hypothesis helps us to see the conceptual link with Tannhaeuser, who has kept the secret of his sojourns in the Venusberg up until the crisis in Act II, sojourns which confront him with the physical, natural, but unconscious basis for those exalted feelings which conscious religious believers posit are divine in origin. Lohengrin will later confess that he came from the Grail Realm, but in my papers on "Lohengrin" I have suggested that in confessing this there is much that he is not confessing, that he is in fact hiding from himself, and it is this potential source of misery which Elsa instinctively offers to help protect him from.
P. 124-125: DB: "Elsa ... says that just as she lies adoring at his feet, so she will give herself to him, body and soul. Instead of offering a corresponding commitment, Lohengrin lays down an off-putting condition; she must never ask him his name, his origins, or his identity. She must accept him simply as he is. She agrees without a thought ... . She can only respond blissfully that he is her saviour, her beloved; how could she be guilty of anything less than unconditional faith in someone who demonstrates such unconditional faith in her? At this point he cries out, 'Elsa, I love you.' This declaration radically redefines their relationship; even if his actions, his championing of Elsa and his marriage offer, were dictated by the Grail [PH: the marriage offer wasn't], he has just infused them with a personal passion for Elsa. From this point onwards his life and his sense of purpose are guided by two distinct aims, to obey the Grail and to experience his grand passion for Elsa. The big question is how far these aims can go peaceably together ... ."
PH: In the earlier, published version of my paper "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried," I offered one possible explanation for Lohengrin's insistence that Elsa never inquire after his true name and origin, which is that, as Wagner himself said, it would be inappropriate for a Knight of the Grail to marry. Feuerbach offers us an explanation for Lohengrin's situation. He noted that in involuntarily and unwittingly inventing the gods and redemption in paradise, the believers who collectively dreamed this fantasy into existence, believing it to be real and true, could not have been conscious that in fact they were smuggling into paradise the very earthly, bodily impulses which they were ostensibly supposed to renounce in order to be worthy of a spiritual paradise. Tannhaeuser's complaint in the Venusberg, that the infinite and endless pleasure Venus offers deprives Tannhaeuser of the very feeling of value which he hoped to find with her, which only mortal, painful, real life can give man, is of the same kind which impels Lohengrin to offer to protect Elsa's innocence only if she'll not only never ask him to reveal his identity and origin to her, but also only if she'll accept his hand in marriage. At both ends of the spectrum, the venal end in Venusberg, and the holy end in Lohengrin's theoretical Grail Realm, the problem is that infinity, transcendence, is not commensurate with not only the pain of real life, but the bliss of real life, even though humankind invented paradise in the first place as a place with no pain, where blissful life could be magnified to infinity.
PH: DB seems to be instinctively aware that Lohengrin's marriage to Elsa presents a problem, even though he (I think incorrectly) believes it must be part of what the Grail requires of Lohengrin.
P. 125: DB: "Before Freud or Jung formulated their theories about the unconscious forces which led to love at first sight, Wagner had plumbed its roots intuitively, presenting Lohengrin and Elsa as matching each other's archetypes, just as he did with Senta and the Dutchman. Even before setting eyes on each other, Lohengrin and Elsa have had intimations, as they soon explain to one [an]other, and we can perhaps best understand these as ghostly and formless images in the mind which each fills out for the other as a living reality."
PH: Again, my interpretation, which incorporates Wagner's retrospective analysis of "Lohengrin" which DB disavowed, can help us here. In "A Communication to My Friends" Wagner described Elsa as the other half of Lohengrin, his unconscious mind. Elsa, as Eve, becomes the model for Wagner's metaphor of the heroine-lover as the artist-hero's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. Lohengrin and Elsa share archetypes because they are one person, Lohengrin being the conscious mind, and Elsa his unconscious mind. I appreciate how very counter-intuitive this must be for anyone who must accept these characters as separate, distinct individuals, as they are portrayed in the drama, but nonetheless Wagner is able to present fully formed dramatically persuasive human beings who also carry metaphorical meaning. The wonder is that this works.
P. 126: Here DB sums up what he thinks may be the root of the discrepancy between Lohengrin's demands and Elsa's needs: DB: "Their problem, as Wagner soon makes clear, is twofold, first that their blissful fulfillments are not supported by any matching insights, and second, that the demands of their love and the requirements of the Grail will not in fact run parallel but diverge. (...) Enduring love learns to embrace the real person regardless of discrepancies between the reality and past ideas. Sadly neither Lohengrin nor Elsa are able to do this. Wagner shows how neither of them has the insight and sympathy which would make it possible to enter into each other's minds. Each consequently fails to appreciate the significance of what is all-important to the other."
PH: DB's argument is only half correct. "Lohengrin," I believe, is Wagner's first definitive representation of a Feuerbachian idea which is the foundation of his subsequent mature music-dramas, which is that religious faith is dying in the face of the advancement of objective knowledge of ourselves and our world, and man's religious longing can only live on in secular art, particularly the art of music. Lohengrin himself, in his demand that Elsa have unquestioning faith in him, represents religious faith, and Elsa, in her insistence on asking Lohengrin the question he has forbidden, is a sort of second Eve, who, because she can no longer accept religious faith, but yet wishes to participate in Lohengrin's allegedly divine nature, causes a second Fall by breaking his injunction not to seek forbidden knowledge, a Fall which makes her potentially the muse for secular art as a substitute for religious faith. Wagner in "A Communication to My Friends" said that Elsa, thanks to her breach of Lohengrin's demand for faith, was effectively the revolutionary who gave birth to his new approach to music and drama, and therefore figuratively gave birth to Wagner's transition from traditional romantic opera to revolutionary music-drama. Elsa instinctively knows what Lohengrin needs. Since religious faith cannot survive in the modern world, she asks Lohengrin to share with her the secret of his true identity and origin so she can help protect him from the harm he would suffer, she says, if it became known to the world, by helping him keep his secret. The secret is of course that he is not divine, but a representative of man's wound that will never heal, man's need, as Kant put it, to posit the metaphysical, transcendence, which is contradicted by the fact that man is wholly a product of nature, even in his longing to transcend it. Elsa can offer Lohengrin salvation from destruction by keeping his secret even from him, by sublimating it into art, particularly music, pure feeling, without making any false claims (as religious belief does) about the nature of man and the world, or demanding unquestioning faith. Art does not need unquestioning faith because it makes no claim on the truth, and feeling can't be doubted, because it undoubtedly is what it is. So it is Lohengrin alone who can't accommodate his partner in love, while Elsa would have been able to accommodate Lohengrin if he had trusted her with his secret. This plot premise Wagner elaborated in extraordinary detail in his "Ring," which gives us a metaphorical history not only of the birth of religious faith and its demise, but also the birth of secular art out of religion, and its demise. "Rhinegold" concerns the birth of religious faith, "The Valkyrie" concerns faith's demise, "Siegfried" concerns the birth of the artist-hero and his secular art as a substitute for dying religious faith, and "Twilight of the Gods" concerns the demise of religious faith's last refuge, secular art, particularly the art of music-drama.
PH: While Lohengrin was not willing to confess his secret to Elsa, to trust her with it, Wotan will acquiesce when Bruennhilde asks him to confess to her what troubles him (his divine "Noth"), and what troubles him is that her mother Erda has foreseen that Alberich's curse on the Ring will inevitably bring about the end of the gods, i.e., the end of religious faith. He also confesses to her his longing for a hero freed from the gods, i.e., freed from religious faith, who will nonetheless redeem mankind from the curse on Alberich's Ring, which, as I have shown in my online book posted here at wagnerheim.com, is the curse of human consciousness itself. This hero is none other than Siegfried, the artist-hero, who will fulfill Feuerbach's prediction that when the old god of religious belief can no longer be sustained in the face of science as a concept, he will live on in men's hearts, and in music. Thus Wotan's confession to Bruennhilde, the womb of Wotan's wishes, gives birth to Wotan's heir Siegfried. In "Lohengrin," though it is far from self-evident, the role of the artist hero who will be Lohengrin's heir is taken cryptically by Gottfried, who inherits Lohengrin's sword, horn, and ring. But Lohengrin has to separate himself from Elsa forever, just as Wotan must separate himself from his daughter Bruennhilde forever, and leave her to wed his heir Siegfried, after Bruennhilde betrays his trust.
P. 127-128: Here DB recounts Telramund's accusations against his wife Ortrud in Act Two, for he concludes, thanks to Lohengrin's victory over him in the trial by sword, that God has spoken in Lohengrin's favor, thereby proving that Ortrud's account of how she saw Elsa drown her brother Gottfried in the woods is false: DB: "Telramund furiously denounces Ortrud for reducing them to degradation and exile, and in essence he declares, 'It was your declaration that Elsa had taken her brother to the woods and drowned him that was my reason for accusing Elsa, but my defeat has proved that you were lying. God's judgment has made this clear.' The eventual denouement will prove she was indeed lying, and that Gottfried's appearance was due to her own black arts. Ortrud had transformed him into a swan, the very swan that had drawn Lohengrin up the Scheldt, and Telramund is eventually her worst victim."
PH: A controversial detail of my interpretation as found in my essay "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried," in its two versions (one found in the archive of this discussion forum, the other at http://www.wagnersocietyflorida.org), was that I had hypothesized that Elsa is figuratively responsible for having killed her brother Gottfried, but only in the sense that as a metaphor for Eve, who brought about the Fall which made man subject to death, she is responsible for everyman's death. Gottfried is actually under two spells, the first a consequence of Ortrud's wish to punish mankind for having disavowed the pagan gods (including Wodan and Freia: we must remember that Wagner considered pagan worship a form of nature worship, as opposed to Christianity, which posited a transcendent, divine realm allegedly autonomous from nature), the second a form of protection provided by the Grail, i.e., religious faith. In essence, Gottfried, mankind, is cursed by Mother Nature for having disavowed her in favor of an imaginary, allegedly divine realm symbolized by the Grail. But as Wagner himself pointed out (you'll find the quote in my anthology posted here in wagnerheim.com), the Nibelung Hoard (having a purely natural origin) was sublimated into the Grail, just as Alberich's Ring motif is transformed into the Valhalla Motif, which represents the gods' divine realm of heaven. Ultimately, on the wider view which includes how Wagner elaborated these ideas after having completed "Lohengrin," Ortrud's accusation against Elsa is correct. The detail that she witnessed Elsa drown Gottfried, knowing full well that Gottfried lives on, but be-spelled by Ortrud yet protected by the Grail, is a figure for a concept of some abstraction, impossible to dramatize directly, but only through an allegory which depends on a fairy-tale makeover in order to make it work as a drama.
PH: You must read my essay "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried" to grasp the sophistication of Wagner's allegorical thinking in detail, but I can say here that Ortrud has a special relationship with Elsa which is a model for Wagner's characterization of Erda (Mother Nature) and Bruennhilde as mother and daughter. Like Erda, Ortrud possesses special knowledge which is a threat to religious faith, God, or the gods, and imparts her doubts to Elsa, just as Wotan imparts Erda's prophecy of the gods' inevitable demise to Bruennhilde, who is expected never to speak what she's heard aloud, in words. Elsa acts on Ortrud's doubt and breaches faith. But the point is that the gods (religious faith) have to fade away in order that inspired secular art can be its heir, so both Lohengrin and Wotan fade into the background.
P. 128: DB: "She [Ortrud] now accuses him [Telramund] of cowardice; his cowardice was the real cause of his defeat, not God's judgment. (...) With her fiendish allure she mesmerizes him again, this time into believing that Lohengrin had won through witchcraft. At the same time she reveals a virulent contempt for the Christian God, which appal[l]s and frightens Telramund."
PH: Feuerbach said that the origin of religion is primarily fear, especially the fear of death which gave birth to man's longing for immortality in paradise. What Ortrud is telling Telramund is that he, who still believes, is automatically defeated by belief, and that this is the sort of magic or witchcraft through which Lohengrin has himself placed a spell on everybody but her, Ortrud. In other words, following Feuerbach's lead, Ortrud, who evidently represents objective, natural truth as opposed to the illusory consolations of Christian belief (in spite of the fact she advocates the worship of Wodan and Freia, in Wagner's writings pagan worship, where it is contrasted with Christian faith, is described as a form of nature worship), is basically accusing Lohengrin of employing the witchcraft or magic of art (which is what religious belief is considered to be when considered as an illusion instead of reality, per Feuerbach) to sway the masses and defeat Frederick. In this sense Ortrud's paganism reminds us of Venus's realm, the Venusberg, to which the pagan gods have retreated after Christianity won over the hearts of the masses. This helps to place DB's following paraphrase of Ortrud's prayer to the pagan gods in context:
P. 128-129: DB: "... Ortrud sings a terrifying 'prayer', an incantation to the old gods at full roar. She asks Wodan and Freia to consecrate her treachery and wickedness so that she can restore to them the ancient thrones from which Christianity had deposed them."
P. 129: DB: "... Elsa says she plans next morning to ask for an amnesty for Telramund [PH: Ortrud had already won Elsa's sympathy for her miserable plight, having been exiled along with Frederick for making allegedly false accusations against Elsa]. Ortrud thanks her extravagantly and sensing her advantage, she begins to sow seeds of anxiety in Elsa about the mystery knight's identity. ... after all, his forbidden question is so mysterious, might it not be sinister?"
PH: Ortrud, like Erda (Mother Nature in the 'Ring'), possesses knowledge of how Christian belief (i.e., those who have deluded themselves through Christian belief; or, in the case of the "Ring,' how religious belief in general deludes believers into supposing themselves beholden to supernatural beings who are immortal themselves and may offer immortality to selected mortals) supplanted nature worship with worship of an illusory realm regarded as autonomous from nature, for Erda likewise knows that the gods, who think themselves immortal, are headed of necessity to destruction. Just as Erda has a special relationship with Bruennhilde, who is Erda's daughter with Wotan, and who betrayed Wotan's trust, so Ortrud has a special relationship with Elsa, planting in her the doubt which will compel Elsa to break Lohengrin's trust. This may help us to answer DB's following question:
P. 129: DB: "Some commentators have found it strange that Wagner has Elsa being taken in by Ortrud, because Ortrud is plainly evil in general and evil to Elsa in particular. Why should Elsa accept Ortrud's kind words as genuine when she and Telramund had been plotting against Elsa's life with a capital charge, and Lohengrin was the one who had saved her? Why should Elsa pay attention to their concern that there might be something threatening about Lohengrin's refusal to tell her who he is, when they themselves were her worst threat? The answer is that Elsa's convictions are all at sea, and she displays Wagner's profound understanding of a mind that is disturbed. Wagner makes it clear that her existence has been transformed by Lohengrin, but in Elsa he created a young woman who is very vulnerable." PH: Following this up, DB then speculates, I think wildly, about what Elsa's childhood may have been like, to produce such vulnerability.
PH: DB's attempt to explain Ortrud's seemingly undue influence on Elsa I feel is barking up the wrong tree, but he introduces an assumption which I feel throws many off the right track. Yes, Ortrud is presented as evil and scheming, and as even bearing false witness to get her way, but we can assume from what we know from the libretto text that she regards herself as the rightful heir, and her gods as the rightful gods, who have been overthrown by usurpers with a false claim to power. I have many reasons for believing that Ortrud is part of the makeup that went into Wagner's Erda, Mother Nature, in the 'Ring,' who though she seems at first to be benevolently offering Wotan a warning early in the "Ring," later is described by Wotan himself as the mother of fear, whom he will consign to oblivion, because she possesses the knowledge of the inevitability of the gods' demise and the victory of Alberich's curse over its victims. Similarly, Alberich will regard himself as the rightful owner of the Ring, and thus the world, a position of power which the Valhallan gods have usurped by virtue of offering man consoling illusions. Note also that Isolde and Bruennhilde both conspire with the alleged villains Melot and Hagen to wreak vengeance on their lovers Siegfried and Tristan, after concluding their lovers have betrayed them, while Kundry, who in effect, even according to Wagner himself, is the reincarnation of Isolde (and therefore of Bruennhilde and Eva and Elsa and Venus), collaborates with the villain Klingsor to catch Parsifal in Klingsor's vice. There is thus, as you can see, much more to this distinction between good and evil than meets the eye. It may help to recall that Wagner himself not only said that God is neither good nor evil, but that God and Nature are one (see my anthology of passages from Wagner's letters and recorded remarks here at http://www.wagnerheim.com).
PH: As for the contrast between good and evil, referenced by DB here, Wagner presents us with a major philosophical and ethical conundrum in his operas and music-dramas, which is that he shows how it is possible that what is called the good may be on the side of self-deceit, and evil on the side of the objective, if nonetheless bitter and fatal truth. That is why it is very dubious to try and apply simple categories of black and white to many of Wagner's characters, though we are nonetheless usually in little doubt as to which characters Wagner regards with sympathy. Nietzsche built much of his mature philosophy on the argument that what is true can only be obtained through a strength of will which most humans lack, because this truth may not be consistent with conventional happiness.
P. 130: DB concludes his psychological profile of Elsa with the following summation: DB: "Wagner has etched out a damaged personality who has so far lost her ability to think straight that she gives her worst enemy a hearing."
PH: Sad to say, I don't think DB's thesis will fly, for the reasons I stated above. In fact I don't think his thesis has anything whatsoever to do with the case in hand.
P. 131-132: DB now recounts Elsa's procession to the Minster to marry Lohengrin, broken off by Ortrud's and Frederick's confrontations with her: DB: "... the culmination never arrives because to a blistering diminished seventh Ortrud suddenly breaks ranks to hurl scorn and contempt at Elsa. She claims precedence as the wife of a man well-recognized as a great feudal lord over Elsa, who knows nothing of the stranger she is marrying. (...) 'Although my husband has been falsely condemned and outlawed, his name was honored throughout the land, but nothing is known of your bridegroom, and you have not even a name for him. You know nothing of his origins. You have no idea when he will disappear. If he were to reveal who he is, it would put an end to the black arts which empower him.' Elsa ... denounces Ortrud in turn; 'You shameless slanderer! You frightful, evil woman! My answer is that he is so pure and rings so true that only an evil person could fail to recognize it.' Unfortunately, the music which Wagner gives Elsa has not the same force and conviction as his music for Ortrud as she jeers, 'He is so pure and rings so true that you dare not even ask him, because you know what the truth would be.' "
PH: Ortrud makes a good point. Why is Frederick able to openly declare his identity but Lohengrin is not? As I wrote in my essays on "Lohengrin" aforementioned, if Lohengrin were a truly divine being it could be said that he quite simply can't make himself known in his full truth to the mortal masses, as they are presumably spiritually not able to grasp his transcendent being, but that is not the case, because Lohengrin is eventually forced to describe his origin in words to this public, an act which compels him to retreat from the world. Ortrud also suggests that Lohengrin may eventually leave Elsa, since he arrived so mysteriously. It is implicit that Ortrud is suggesting that if Elsa only knew Lohengrin's identity she could hold him fast. In my interpretation this makes sense, because the artist's unconscious muse of inspiration holds for him the secret of his true identity as covert religious faith, predicated on an illusion with which man hides from himself the terrible truth about his true nature and natural origin, and because the heroine-muse-lover holds this knowledge for him so that he can be protected from its secret, he must, whenever he seeks new unconscious artistic inspiration, join her in love again. This is how she holds him. This is the secret of her hold over him, if only he allows her to hold for him the knowledge of his true identity, as Eva does for Walther, Isolde for Tristan (until Tristan can no longer remain unconscious of it in the light of day), Bruennhilde for Siegfried, and Kundry for Parsifal (and even Venus for Tannhaeuser, and Senta for the Dutchman).
PH: Just as Tannhaeuser's unwitting and involuntary, entranced revelation that the source of his inspiration for his contest song, and even for the promise of paradise held as an article of faith by Christians, is Venus and the Venusberg, which heretofore remained unconscious, even for him, so Ortrud suggests that if Lohengrin's secret, the source of his seemingly magic hold over Elsa and the general public, were known, he would be exposed as merely natural man, and not divine, who has implied art to fool himself and the masses. Elsa will take Ortrud's implication to heart, for in the great love duet of Act III, prior to asking Lohengrin the forbidden question, Elsa will offer to help protect Lohengrin from the harm which might ensue if his forbidden self-knowledge became known to the world (and to himself!), by sharing his secret. However, this was insufficient, for in the "Ring" Wagner had Bruennhilde hold for Siegfried the forbidden knowledge of his true identity as heir to Wotan's futile bid for redemption from the truth, so Siegfried could be protected from suffering the wound that will never heal, the wound of being conscious of the irresolvability of our existential dilemma.
P. 133-134: DB describes how Lohengrin, in answer to Frederick's challenge, refuses to tell anyone, even King Henry, his true identity, saying that his good deeds speak for themselves, but confessing besides that the only one who can compel him to answer is Elsa.
PH: Only Elsa can compel an answer because Wagner is further elaborating in Elsa his metaphor for the artist-hero's unconscious mind, represented previously by Tannhaeuser's hidden lover Venus, and her Venusberg.
P. 134: PH: DB's following paraphrase of Telramund's attempt to have private words with Elsa leaves out something very important: DB: "Telramund has sidled up to Elsa during the ensemble and now assaults her verbally with promises of assistance and advice how to hold Lohengrin in Brabant."
PH: DB has omitted Frederick's remark to her, which echoes Ortrud's advice to him earlier in Act II that if he had cut a mere finger off of Lohengrin this would have deprived him of his magic and exposed him for what he is, that if Frederick merely wounds Lohengrin Elsa will know who he is and can keep him with her in Brabant. This I think is, again, Wagner's figure for the wound that will never heal, that though man, by virtue of his symbolic consciousness, automatically and involuntarily posits metaphysics and the transcendent, nonetheless man is natural, and all his longings, even for redemption, are natural, and that furthermore, he is predestined, in the fullness of time, to become conscious of this limiting fact, which will overthrow all illusions of transcendent value. In any case, Elsa, a premonition of what would become Wagner's heroine as a metaphor for the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, can maintain Lohengrin's fidelity only if she possesses forbidden knowledge of his true identity which, if conscious, would be experienced by him as the wound that will never heal, but which, if it remains unconscious for him, can safely be exploited as the hidden source of inspiration for that art which can temporarily protect him and his audience from suffering consciousness of that wound.
P. 135: As DB notes, Act III begins with a very exciting Prelude scored dramatically for brass, followed by the famous Bridal Chorus [PH: which, I note with amusement, would in itself have made the Wagner family billionaires had they been paid a residuum from each performance. The same is certainly true of the 'Ride of the Valkyries'.].
PH: It is amusing also to consider that this music to which millions upon millions (maybe even well over a billion?) of brides have entered churches to be wed to their grooms is the prelude to a honeymoon which breaks up Elsa's and Lohengrin's marriage before it has even gotten off the ground.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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