Lohengrin - Synopsis
After nine years of peace, Germany is again under threat of war, which is why King Heinrich wants to unite the German dukedoms in common cause in the struggle against Hungary. The dukedom of Brabant, however, is in a precarious situation. The throne has been vacant ever since the death of the duke because Elsa, his daughter, refused to marry Friedrich Telramund, in whose care her father placed her before he died. Telramund has since married Ortrud, who comes from the former ruling house of Radbod. Since Elsa’s younger brother Gottfried has disappeared mysteriously, Telramund claims the right to the throne and accuses Elsa, in the presence of king Heinrich, of fratricide. Instead of defending herself, Elsa describes to king Heinrich a dream she has had in which a champion is sent by God to defend her cause. Heinrich therefore calls for a trial by combat in which a knight will fight Telramund for Elsa’s cause. A knight does indeed arrive to fight for Elsa, led by a swan. There is, however, one condition, Elsa is never to ask his name or where he comes from. Elsa agrees and the knight fells Telramund in combat. Elsa’s reputation is saved, king Heinrich and the Brabantians accept the unknown knight as their leader.
Friedrich is dejected and is bitter in his reproaches to Ortrud, claiming the only reason for his thinking that he had right on his side was because she had maintained that she had witnessed Elsa murdering Gottfried and now he has to live with the shame of having been defeated in combat. Ortrud manages to lift his spirits by telling him there must be some kind of spell surrounding the knight. After all, she argues, nobody knows who the stranger is. As soon as his secret is out, his power will be lost – and she and Telramund will be able to succeed to the throne of Brabant.
Elsa, who can hardly believe her good fortune, feels sorry for Ortrud, even though the latter is voicing doubts about the integrity and loyalty of the knight. Elsa invites Ortrud to accompany her to the altar at her approaching wedding.
The king has outlawed Telramund and calls on the Brabantians to rally round their new leader and arm themselves for war.
Ortrud is not prepared to walk behind Elsa in the bridal procession. She also casts doubt in public about the trial by ordeal, claiming that nobody knew where the knight came from and also whether his powers were not magic. The king tries to stop things from escalating but Telramund appears on the scene and accuses the unknown knight of using magic. The knight, however, feels only a sense of duty towards Elsa who, in spite of her misgivings, keeps her promise not to ask about his origins. The marriage can take place without further disturbance.
Elsa and her knight are alone for the first time in the bridal chamber. Elsa is plagued by doubts about whether their relationship can possibly have a future. In spite of having been forbidden to do so, she cannot stop herself from asking her knight about his name and where he comes from. Telramund tries to kill the knight but he manages to fell Telramund. The knight promises Elsa that he will divulge his identity to the king and all the Brabantians.
King Heinrich hopes to be able finally to set off to war with the Brabantians at his side. The knight, however, is no longer available to lead them as Elsa has broken her vow and so he tells them where he is from: he is an envoy from the Temple of the Holy Grail in Montsalvat, the son of Parsifal, his name is Lohengrin. And now, he continues, he must return to Montsalvat, again accompanied by the swan. Ortrud recognizes in the swan the boy Gottfried, whom she changed into his present form. The spell is broken and the future ruler, Gottfried, returns to the people of Brabant.