When King Heinrich of Saxony arrives at Brabant
castle, Telramund and his wife, the pagan princess Ortrud, tell the king
that the state of Brabant is suffering. Gottfried, the heir to the late
Duke, has disappeared. Telramund and Ortrud accuse Gottfried’s sister, Elsa,
of murdering Gottfried to inherit his wealth and lands. Heinrich allows
for a “trial of arms” against Telramund’s accusations. If Elsa can find
a champion to defeat Telramund, she proves her innocence. But not one of
the Brabant nobles is willing to fight for Elsa.
Elsa, however, has dreamed of a defender, a knight
in shining armor. She prays for that knight to come to her, and, to the
amazement of all, he appears with a boat guided by a white swan. The unknown
knight declares that he has come to save Elsa. He promises to be the protector
of Elsa’s kingdom and become her husband, but he warns Elsa that she must
never ask his name or origin. Elsa agrees to his terms. The knight easily
defeats Telramund and spares his life.
Furious at losing their bid for the castle, Ortrud
and Telramund begin to challenge Elsa’s devotion to her knight. If he arrived
so magically and has no name, he could leave as easily, suggests Ortrud.
On their wedding night, Elsa can no longer stifle
her curiosity and asks her new husband the fatal questions about his name
and home. He tells her that she has broken the spell that allowed him to
remain at Brabant and he must leave her. Telramund and four nobles break
into the bedchamber. Telramund attacks the knight and is killed. The knight
tells the nobles to bear away Telramund’s body. The knight must now leave
Brabant, but he will answer Elsa’s questions publicly before he goes.
Before King Heinrich, the knight tells the court
that he is Lohengrin, a knight of the Holy Grail. Lohengrin announces he
must return to the Grail, but he promises Elsa that her brother will come
back to Brabant. Ortrud reveals that she enchanted Gottfried and turned
him into a swan. Lohengrin prays, Ortrud’s spell is broken, and Gottfried
appears. Brokenhearted at the loss of the noble knight, Elsa and the people
of Brabant watch as Lohengrin sails away.