Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 19

Thread: Lohengrin: Misogyny, Bigotry and a distinct lack of compassion.

  1. #1
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Great Britain
    Posts
    4,000
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default Lohengrin: Misogyny, Bigotry and a distinct lack of compassion.

    I’ve always been a Prima la musica, dopo le parole kind of guy but having acquired some new recordings of Lohengrin recently and a very handy little ENO guide with a singable translation I felt that I should perhaps spend some time listening to how the text is interpreted. My initial recording was the Karajan. I will not go into the merits or otherwise of this particular recording here but rather I wish to relay my feelings about Lohengrin himself based on the libretto.

    There was a thread fairly recently asking who was the nastiest opera character? Or something like that.
    The usual suspects were there; Iago, Hagen, Don Pizzaro et al.

    I wish to add Lohengrin to that ignominious list and my reasons are the three things I put in the thread title.

    Misogyny. Let’s look at Lohengrin’s attitude to Elsa. He arrives out of the blue to “help” her but right off the bat he tells her that she only gets his help provided she asks him no questions about his antecedents. She must trust and have faith in him but he shows absolutely no trust or faith in her ability to keep his secrets. I am reminded of the words Arthur Conan Doyle put into the mouth of Sherlock Holmes in Sign of Four - “ Women are never to be entirely trusted - not the best of them.” If this isn’t a similar view then I don’t know what is. Lohengrin continually reminds Elsa of this right up until he dumps her!

    Bigotry. I know that religious tolerance and freedom of worship wasn’t uppermost in the medieval mind but the treatment of Ortrud hardly shows Christian charity at its best. Non Christian worship predates Christianity by many thousands of years so why should Ortrud not be free to worship the Norse gods that she did. Possibly the use of magic to transform Gottfried was a step too far but Lohengrin’s use of “magic” to transform him back is no different.

    Lack of compassion. Lohengrin’s punishment of Elsa, Telramund and indeed, all of Brabant is hardly commensurate with the crime. Elsa asked a “forbidden” question and for that she loses her husband, breaking her heart and eventually killing her. If Ortrud hadn’t blurted out that she enchanted Gottfried then Lohengrin would have left Gottfried under that enchantment depriving Brabant of their rightful leader and Elsa of her brother. He had already deprived Ortrud of her husband who had only acted according to his beliefs, even allowing for his being misled by Ortrud. Lohengrin’s punishment shows a distinct lack of Christian charity and only at the last moment does he relent. Only when Elsa dies! Nice!

    Feel free to discuss and/or disagree.
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

  2. #2
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2019
    Posts
    1,209
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Barb!!! What on earth is this!? I just listened to Act III of Lohengrin in awe and now I read this !

    Wagner saw the poem of Lohengrin as a story about man's longing and yearning which seeds from the depths of universal human nature. Lohengrin comes from his lonely splendour down to earth in yearning to be understood through human love.

    Wagner explained the character of Ortrud to Liszt. Ortrud is a representation of a political woman (Wagner said that a political man is terrible, but a political woman is even worse - rephrased by me as I don't have time to look the actual thing up). He also wrote that Ortrud's worship of ancient gods is to emphasise that Ortrud lives in past. If I recall correctly from that letter, then Wagner said that Ortrud is unable to love and is against any change, reform, or progression. Considering Wagner's revolutionary ideology of art, that could depict the reluctance of the society transform their understanding of art. Woodduck proposed a theory that Lohengrin is Wagner's art (if not Wagner himself). I find the idea super fascinating but I think Woodduck can elaborate on that much better than I can. That would probably solve many of those questions as well.

    Lohengrin sought the woman who would trust in him and would love him unconditionally exactly the way he was. That's the reason why he cloaks his higher essence to guarantee that he is loved as a human not worshipped as some higher being. "His longing was not for worship nor for adoration, but for the only thing sufficient to redeem him from his loneliness, to still his deep desire,—for Love, for being loved, for being understood through Love." Wagner said that when Lohengrin came to earth, he was a "warmth-inspiring Man" and not a God i.e "absolute artist". I think this only further emphasises that Wagner recognised himself in Lohengrin as an artist. When Lohengrin leaves and returns to his loneliness, he is convinced that he was not understood, simply worshipped.

    Wagner was certainly not a misogynist. Very un-Romantic-German idea considering what a leading idea was Goethe's eternal feminine. Wagner saw Elsa's final outburst inevitable and he says he deeply suffered as he understood the necessity of that parting. Wagner describes Elsa in almost psychoanalytical terms saying that she's the unconscious into into which Lohengrin's conscious, deliberate being yearns to be redeemed. The outburst of Elsa's jealousy, "wakes first from out the thrill of worship into the full reality of Love", and her wreck reveals its essence to Lohengrin who failed to recognise it. Lohengrin himself fails to achieve his redemption in Elsa through not recognising the true redeeming Womanhood.
    Last edited by annaw; Yesterday at 13:27.

  3. Likes Barbebleu, Woodduck liked this post
  4. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Great Britain
    Posts
    4,000
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I never said Wagner was a misogynist although ......! I believe I was talking about the character of Lohengrin

    Mind you, who said invented characters had to be likeable? I don’t subscribe to the theory that there must be something of the author in the characters that they write otherwise you could almost say that all writers have some sort of multiple personality disorder!!
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

  5. Likes The Conte liked this post
  6. #4
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2019
    Posts
    1,209
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    I never said Wagner was a misogynist although ......! I believe I was talking about the character of Lohengrin

    Mind you, who said invented characters had to be likeable? I don’t subscribe to the theory that there must be something of the author in the characters that they write otherwise you could almost say that all writers have some sort of multiple personality disorder!!
    I see, true that . Or those traits of author are sometimes much more brutally emphasised in the characters.

    Btw, my above post is largely a summary of a few pages from this: http://users.skynet.be/johndeere/wlpdf/wlpr0079.pdf (pp 39-42)

    It was an interesting read, Lohengrin has been difficult to understand for me due to many reasons/questions you pointed out yourself.

  7. Likes Barbebleu liked this post
  8. #5
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Great Britain
    Posts
    4,000
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    When I first heard Lohengrin, the Kempe studio version, I was, like yourself, transported by the sheer ethereal beauty of the music. As I said I’ve always come to opera through the music and paid less attention to the libretto. Probably to my detriment! In my later years I’ve been starting to look at the words as much as the music and, my goodness, I have had my eyes opened somewhat, either by the sheer banality of some libretti or by the callousness of others and very often by the erudition and uncannily clever construction of even more.

    Again my opinion of Lohengrin is merely that, my opinion and as the Gershwins said - you can’t take that away from me!
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

  9. Likes annaw liked this post
  10. #6
    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
    Posts
    1,505
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    Possibly the use of magic to transform Gottfried was a step too far but Lohengrin’s use of “magic” to transform him back is no different.
    that word "possibly" is doing a lot of work here. and if someone uses magic on me to turn me into a swan, everyone has my explicit permission to please use magic to turn me back!

  11. Likes Barbebleu, annaw liked this post
  12. #7
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Great Britain
    Posts
    4,000
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by howlingfantods View Post
    that word "possibly" is doing a lot of work here. and if someone uses magic on me to turn me into a swan, everyone has my explicit permission to please use magic to turn me back!
    xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

    Consider it done. I’ll need to consult one or two of my old grimoires though. Might start with Honorius!
    Last edited by Barbebleu; Yesterday at 19:46.
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

  13. #8
    Senior Member MAS's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2015
    Location
    San Francisco
    Posts
    986
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I’ve always thought Lohengrin was cruel to Elsa, forbidding her to ask his name, while repeatedly bellowing ELSA! at her every twenty minutes.
    That said, it’s my favorite Wagner opera.
    Last edited by MAS; Yesterday at 19:08.

  14. Likes Barbebleu liked this post
  15. #9
    Senior Member vivalagentenuova's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2019
    Posts
    247
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    I think it's a genre mistake to understand Lohengrin not revealing his name and Elsa not being allowed to ask about it as evidence that Lohengrin doesn't think women can be trusted. I mean, what does he think she's going to do with his name once she has it? Identity theft? Empty his bank accounts? He arrives by swan boat. That's the kind of story this is. It's one in which an action's symbolic meaning determines its plot significance. In a modern realistic novel, I'd say someone not telling someone their name is evidence of trying to hide something, or lack of trust, or whatever else was indicated by context of the plot and the character's psychology. In a mythical story like this, I would look at what "name" as a concept means to the people who created the story, and what withholding it might symbolize in that context. I'm not a Lohengrin expert or anything, and Wagner may also have had psychological intentions that manifest in other elements of the story, but generally people's actions in mythical-type stories have nothing to do with their unique psychology. (Usually, they don't have a unique psychology. Their actions are generally driven by fate, manipulation by divine beings, or simple emotions.) Their actions are interesting for their symbolic meaning. This true in the absurdly maligned and misunderstood Turandot as well. You have to start with the idea that what you're seeing is symbolic rather than literal, and only then can you understand what's happening and why. For all the talk from critics about how Liu is one of Puccini's "little women", she is fundamentally different in that she has almost no psychological complexity. Cio-Cio San, Mimi, Minnie, Tosca, Magda, Giorgetta and on and on are modern, realistic, psychologically interesting characters. Liu is a purely mythical character whose only character traits are that she is loyal and in love with Calaf. This is not because of an impoverished understanding of female agency and complexity, as his previous portrayals of complex women whose choices drive their own plots prove. It is because this is a different kind of story that has different narrative conventions. Liu is to be taken symbolically, just as everything else in that opera is. He death is a reenactment of the death of Lou-Ling (the fact that their names sound almost identical is surely not coincidental) that Turandot cites as the reason she is taking revenge on all men who pursue her. Iow, Turandot reenacts the crime she is supposedly pursuing justice for. We as modern people find a character that mainly exists as a vehicle for symbolic meaning odd, which is why often fail to understand the heroes of ancient literature and myth. (Of course, as in any good modern literature, Puccini's other heroines also have symbolic value. Mimi symbolizes the poetic imagination of youthful innocence. As Rodolfo says, he is the poet and she is the poetry. Her death and his disillusionment coincide in that she dies because the bohemians have no money. No amount of pseudo-intellectual posturing or witty Romanticism will provide medical care. Etc.)

    So, in sum, I think you're taking it too literally. I think that's causing you to import real concerns about similar behavior in our modern context to a story working on entirely different principles.

  16. Likes OperaChic, MaxKellerman, Byron and 2 others liked this post
  17. #10
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Great Britain
    Posts
    4,000
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    You misunderstand. I am in no way taking this too literally. I have no concerns about Lohengrin’s behaviour relating to a modern context. He is a fantasy figure acting in a fairytale for our amusement. However, for my part, in any milieu I would consider him, as written, to be a nasty piece of work.
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

  18. #11
    Senior Member annaw's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2019
    Posts
    1,209
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Barbebleu View Post
    However, for my part, in any milieu I would consider him, as written, to be a nasty piece of work.
    And so far I've thought it's the sweetest among Wagner's operas...

    New try. Consider the opera without Lohengrin. Elsa would have been - I don't know - sent to exile or killed. Lohengrin did give her an opportunity but both of them failed in different things. I think Lohengrin's eternal loneliness isn't much better outcome than Elsa's death. If you see him as a sympathetic character, which he surely is, he's not that cold-hearted anymore.
    Last edited by annaw; Yesterday at 19:52.

  19. Likes Barbebleu, WildThing liked this post
  20. #12
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Great Britain
    Posts
    4,000
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by annaw View Post
    And so far I've thought it's the sweetest among Wagner's operas...

    New try. Consider the opera without Lohengrin. Elsa would have been - I don't know - sent to exile or killed. Lohengrin did give her an opportunity but both of them failed in different things. I think Lohengrin's eternal loneliness isn't much better outcome than Elsa's death. If you see him as a sympathetic character, which he surely is, he's not that cold-hearted anymore.
    It certainly has some of his sweetest music for which fact alone I love it. Remember I did say that I’ve always been a music first, words second, kind of guy!
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

  21. Likes annaw liked this post
  22. #13
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    Ashland, OR
    Posts
    16,272
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Is this what the Covid-19 pandemic does to people?

  23. Likes Byron, The Conte, annaw and 1 others liked this post
  24. #14
    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    Posts
    15,634
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Why on earth does the OP brings the word 'Christian' in? The legend of Lohengrin has nothing to do with Christianity. It's a version of the Knight of the Swan legend known from a variety of medieval sources. As for the dear old Norse religion of Ortrud, it did involve human sacrifice but don't let that worry you! Be tolerant!
    Last edited by DavidA; Yesterday at 20:50.

  25. #15
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Great Britain
    Posts
    4,000
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Is Lohengrin not the son of Parsifal? Was Parsifal not one of the Grail knights and were the Grail knights not a Christian order? Was Lohengrin not Christian? Was Henry and his court not Christian? I wasn’t talking about who or what Lohengrin was (and I’m pretty sure we all know the mythology) but rather how the libretto portrays a rather unchristian attitude to ones errors.

    We atheists sometimes forget how touchy those with faith can be!
    "...it is said that first your heart sings, then you play. I think if it is not like that, then it is only just combination of notes, isn't it? " - Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Master of the Sitar.

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •