Lohengrin, The Opera by Richard Wagner – A SHORT Synopsis

A 2 sentence synopsis of the German legend of Lohengrin, that was made into a full-length opera by Richard Wagner, reads as follows:

A shinning-knight arrives on a swan-driven boat to rescue a damsel-in-distress, who must promise never to ask for his true identity. After being rescued, she breaks her promise and the knight departs – never to be seen again.

The Lohengrin opera is significantly more involved than the 2 sentence summary above.

The story line for the opera Lohengrin, as envisioned by the composer and lyricist, Richard Wagner, develops over 3 full acts. A short synopsis of each act of the opera Lohengrin follows below:

As you read the synopsis, listen to opera music online

the Vorspiel (Prelude) to Act I of Lohengrin, the opera by Richard Wagner. Performed by the K&K Philharmoniker at the Philharmonie München, Germany. Conducted by Myron Yusypovych.


The Lohengrin Opera Synopsis – Act I

Famous Opera Tenor Menzinsky as Lohengrin
Famous Opera Tenor Menzinsky as Lohengrin

As we begin our synopsis of the opera Lohengrin, we are transported to the 10th century. The action takes place on the banks of the Scheldt River, near the town of Antwerp, in present-day Belgium.

Elsa and Gottfried are sister and brother and heirs to the Duchy of Brabant. Gottfried has disappeared. Elsa is accused of murdering her brother Gottfried by Count Frederick von Telramund.

King Heinrich of Saxony presides over a medieval court which relies on God’s divine intervention to decide innocence or guilt.

As Elsa, the accused, prays, a shining Knight appears in a boat drawn by a swan. The Knight announces that he has been sent in answer to Elsa’s prayers. The Knight’s mission is to prove Elsa’s innocence.

At the Knight’s request, Elsa must promise to never ask him to reveal his origins or his name. Obtaining Elsa’s covenant, the Knight defeats Count Frederick von Telramund in combat. Elsa is declared innocent of murdering her brother Gottfried.


The Lohengrin Opera Synopsis – Act II

Antwerp Castle Today (source: Wikipedia)
Antwerp Castle Today (source: Wikipedia)

We continue the story synopsis of the Lohengrin opera in the courtyard of the medieval Antwerp castle. A view of the castle today is to your right.

Count Frederick von Telramund, who accused Elsa is disgraced. He blames his wife Ortrud for his failure. Ortrud, in turn, invokes her pagan gods. She advises her husband, Fredrick von Telramund, that Elsa must be tricked into asking the Knight his name.

Ortrud and Frederick von Telramund conspire revenge and the downfall of Elsa and the Knight.

On the eve of the Knight’s and Elsa’s wedding, Ortrud taunts Elsa that she is planning to marry someone she doesn’t know. Frederick von Telramund plots to take over the dukedom. Together, Ortrud and her husband Frederick accuse the Knight of practicing sorcery.

Elsa and the Knight marry in the cathedral.


The Lohengrin Opera Synopsis – Act III

Lohengrin Opera at Lviv Opera House in  1898
Lohengrin Opera at Lviv Opera House in 1898

As we come to the climax in our synopsis of the Lohengrin opera, the scene shifts to the bedchamber within the castle and then returns to the initial scene on the banks of the Scheldt River.

On the wedding night Elsa is overcome by doubts. She asks the Knight to disclose his name.

At sunrise all gather by the lake. The Knight reveals that he is Lohengrin, son of Parsifal, who protects the Holy Grail. Since his identity is now known, the Knight Lohengrin must return whence he came.

The boat drawn by the swan appears. The Knight Lohengrin prepares to depart.

Ortrud steps out and triumphantly declares that the swan is the missing Gottfried. Ortrud boasts that her pagan magic enchanted the young heir of the Duchy of Brabant.

Lohengrin prays. In answer to his prayers, a Dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, descends from above. Gazing at the Dove, Lohengrin loosens the chain that binds the swan to the boat.

The swan transforms into Gottfried of Brabant. Knight Lohengrin proclaims Gottfried the Duke of Brabant.

The Dove carries away the boat with the Knight Lohengrin. Elsa falls lifeless into her brother Gottfried’s arms.


The Lohengrin Opera Synopsis – Conclusion

And so ends the story of Lohengrin as envisioned by the Richard Wagner and retold in the synopsis above.

Good has defeated evil. Christianity has triumphed over paganism.

Continue reading to discover one of the greatest male opera singers, a Wagnerian who made his professional debut singing the extremely difficult tenor role of the Knight Lohengrin.