Opera Scotland

Lohengrin 1875Italian Opera Company

Read more about the opera Lohengrin

This visit by the Royal Italian Opera from Covent Garden, directed by Sir Julius Benedict, featured  the first Scottish performances of any Wagner opera.  

This was the first performance of a Wagner opera in Edinburgh (it having been given at Glasgow Theatre Royal on 3 and 6 November). The first performance of Lohengrin in Britain was at Covent Garden on 8 May, 1875, in Italian. The cast included Emma Albani (Elsa), Mdlle d’Angeri (Ortrud), Ernest Nicolini (Lohengrin), Victor Maurel (Friedrich von Telramund), Herr Seidemann (Heinrich), conducted by Auguste Vianesi.

The Canadian Emma Albani was at the beginning of an illustrious career, and the French baritone Victor Maurel would later be chosen by Verdi to create the role of Iago in Otello as well as the title role in Falstaff.

The venue, Edinburgh's Queen's Theatre, was built on the site of the present-day Festival Theatre.  It was initially advertised as the Royal Southminster Theatre and Opera House.

 

The schedule for the single week in Edinburgh was:

Edinburgh, w/c 13 December:  Mon 13  Sonnambula;  Tue 14 Figlia del Reggimento;  Wed 15 Fra Diavolo;  Thu 16 Lohengrin;  Fri 17 Dinorah;  Sat 18 Lucia di Lammermoor.

 

Edinburgh Press Review

The Scotsman: Friday, 17 December 1875

The Queen’s Theatre – Opera – Lohengrin

'Lohengrin, the novelty of the season, drew by far the best audience the company have had, most parts of the house being quite full.  According to Wagner and his followers, music simple and unaided obtained its highest possible development in Beethoven’s symphonies, and his calling to the aid of poetry at the close of the ninth and greatest of them was a virtual confession that without the help of the sister arts no more could be achieved.  Henceforth, it is said, the leading function of the art of music must be to minister to the necessities of the drama.  Perhaps the strongest practical refutation of this position is the appearance in Germany within the last thirty years of the symphonies of Schumann, and other masterpieces of unaided music by composers of the rank of Brahms, Hiller, Lachner, and Raff.  To our thinking, musical art in its highest perfection is still pure music, wedded neither to poetry nor to the stage; and the drama in its highest form is in like manner independent of musical setting.  In whatever way we attempt to combine music with the drama, each must sacrifice something.

'Nevertheless, in the hands of a composer of genius, a very delightful tertium quid may result, and has resulted, from their union.  This union is of necessity a compromise; and the chief difference between the compromise of the opera and that of the Wagnerian drama is, that in the former dramatic propriety is more sacrificed to musical expression, and in the latter the music is more subordinated to the action.  Both are mixed art, but neither can justly be styled false art.

'We doubt whether it be possible for anyone thoroughly to appreciate Wagner who has not lived long enough in Germany to be imbued in some measure with the thought and sentiment of the country.  The legendary subjects of his dramas do not enlist the sympathies of average British audiences, and all their finer touches are lost in the deplorable process of translation into the language of a people to whom Teutonic dreaminess and mysticism are absolutely incomprehensible.  The charm of Wagner’s orchestral scoring cannot, of course, fail of recognition in this country; and in each of his dramas there are separate pieces whose beauty, in a musical point of view, will be universally acknowledged.

'In Lohengrin, there is Elsa’s dream, the chorus when the people see Lohengrin approaching, the scene between Elsa and Ortrud, the finale of the first act, the bridal chorus, the duet in the bridal chamber, and Lohengrin’s farewell to the swan, besides the instrumental introductions to the first and third acts, already well known to our concert frequenters.  But, unlike the airs and concerted numbers of the ordinary opera, these pieces are so woven into the action that they seem to spring naturally out of it – a condition which greatly heightens this effect to one who really appreciates Wagner’s dramas.'

'This unbroken character, however, has been found wearisome by average British opera-goers, who object to having their attention kept on the stretch by continual changes of time and tone, of light and shade; and it was therefore deemed advisable to make a great many cuts when Lohengrin was produced in London, and still more last night. Viewing the matter in the interests of art, we consider that the production last season at both London houses of so advanced an example of Wagner as Lohengrin was a mistake, and in this, we have no doubt, the composer himself would agree with us. We have heard that some years ago, when Wagner meditated a visit to the Austrian capital, the Viennese, proposing to do him honour by having one of his dramas performed under his direction, inquired which he would select. His answer was Rienzi or Tannhauser. In his opinion, the Viennese, if they were capable of understanding his more advanced works, had at least not the means of performing them as they ought to be performed.

'Such a representation as last night’s was as good as could have been expected with the resources of the company now visiting us; yet there was much in it that could hardly gratify any one who had been in the habit of seeing Lohengrin in Germany.

'A very brief sketch of the plot may not be unacceptable.  Elsa, the heroine, accused by Telramund of having murdered her brother, the Prince of Brabant, a mysterious knight, who has arrived in a skiff drawn by a swan, offers to prove her innocence by the ordeal of battle.  He is victorious, and she bestows on him her hand and throne.  The knight, one of the Guardians of the Holy Grail, is under a vow not to disclose his name; but Elsa, stirred up by Ortrud, wife of Telramund, who had a rival claim to the throne, urges him to reveal himself.  Lohengrin thereupon publicly announces himself in his true character of the son of Prince Percival, and at the same time takes an eternal farewell of his newly-wedded wife.  On his departure, he disenchants the swan, when her lost brother, who had been transformed into this shape by Ortrud’s magic, appears in its place.  Elsa is comforted for the moment, but on her lover’s disappearance she falls down dead.  Without denying that there is much beauty in the libretto, and a great deal to admire in the heroine as a type of womanhood, we have never been able to understand on what principle the hero who thus lightly deserts her has been regarded as the ideal of chivalric manhood.

'The representation of Elsa by Mdlle Albani calls from beginning to end for unqualified praise.  The indulgence of the house was craved for her, as suffering from hoarseness, but it was only in the first few scenes that any deficiency of voice was observable.  The dreamy pathos of the first scene, deepening into hopeless grief, and the subsequent exultation, were beautifully realised.  It would be difficult to praise too highly the delicacy of her phrasing in the love scenes, the tenderness with which she compassionated Ortrud, and her abject despair at the departure of her knight.

'Mdlle Ghiotti both sang and acted well as Ortrud. Her low notes were particularly fine in the duet with Elsa, and her appearance and dress thoroughly suited the part, and formed an excellent contrast with those of the heroine.  M Naudin, though he sang very artistically in the duet with Elsa in the third act, was altogether scarcely equal to the role of the champion knight.  There was a good deal that deserves commendation in Signor Medica’s impersonation of Telramund, but most of all his singing at the beginning of the second act.  The King was also creditably represented by Signor Scolari.

'We cannot say much in praise of the choruses. Though excellent when in unison, they were singularly flat when in harmony.  The bridal chorus, which usually rouses the enthusiasm of the audience, was an entire failure, and would probably have been worse but for a harmonium behind the scenes.  It was obviously not in the nature of things that a band of twenty-four performers could give any adequate idea of Wagner’s magnificent orchestration.

'Signor Vianesi, however, did all that it was possible to do with his materials, and seemed to know the score by heart.  While wielding to great purpose with his right hand, he to a large extent supplied what was wanting with his left on the harmonium.  The trumpets where they come in on the stage were exceedingly good.  The finales of both first and second acts were very effectively given, and the principal performers were recalled at the close of each.  The dresses were gorgeous, and the scenery was creditable in the circumstances, though the swan was rather a failure.'

Performance Cast

Heerufer Royal Herald

Signor Proni

Heinrich Henry the Fowler, King of Germany

Signor Scolari

Friedrich von Telramund Count of Brabant

Victor Maurel (Nov 3, 6))

Signor Medica (Dec 16)

Ortrud Friedrich's wife

Mdlle D' Edelsberg (Nov 3, 6)

Mdlle Ghiotti (Dec 16)

Elsa von Brabant sister of the missing Count Gottfried

Emma Albani (Nov 3, 6; Dec 16)

Lohengrin a knight

Emilio Naudin

Performance DatesLohengrin 1875

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

3 Nov, 19.30 6 Nov, 19.30

Queen's Theatre | Edinburgh

16 Dec, 19.30

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