Continuing the thread about Ortrud/Telramund:
Marriage is as much a concern of Wagner's operas as it was for him in real life.
But then it was a preoccupation of Romanticism. Even at the threshold
classical/romantic, in The Magic Flute, the difficulty of producing a bourgeois
couple is central. At the close of the romantic era, in Die Frau Ohne Schatten,
there is the same concern with the formation of two couples.
The possibility of marriage for love rather than marriage as a contractual
arrangement seems to have caused new problems even if it resolved many of the
old ones. In the old arrangement women were treated as livestock, passing from
father to husband as objects of exchange. Arguably, one could say that the two
couples in Lohengrin signify these two ways: Elsa is marrying the man of her
dreams while Ortrud has made a political marriage (as Philip van Lidth de Jeude
pointed out in his recent post).
What is intriguing for me is the fact that the Ortrud/Telramund match is much
more like a modern, "real" relationship. Elsa, on the other hand, lovable as
she is, has something of the hysteric about her. Confronted with the
realization of her fantasy (like Judith in Bartok's Bluebeard) she insists on
"knowing too much." As is often the case with fantasy, her "knight in shining
armour" does not stand up to such close scrutiny. It is as if Elsa, when
confronted with the realization of her dream, sabotages it. Ortrud's is the
easier relationship in a sense: she is married to the reality of an ambitious
internal lust for power, not a fantasy "saviour."
Sieglinde's plight (graphically narrated in Act I of Die Walkure) is bound up
with escape from the old arranged marriage but here again the solution (incest)
is doubly problematic -talk about out of the frying pan into the fire. Eva, in
Meistersanger, enlists a pillar of the old order (Hans Sachs) to escape the
arranged marriage her father wishes to inflict upon her. And Meistersanger,
being a comedy, is the only Wagner opera that ends with a happy couple.
Tristan explores these two types of relationship more profoundly than any other
of Wagner's operas. By positing Isolde's arranged marriage to Marke against the
passionate and illicit love match of Tristan and Isolde, Wagner emphasizes the
underlying drama of individual vs. communality -a conflict that the composer was
never able to resolve completely except by banishing marriage altogether in the
celibate community of the Grail.
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