Today was “the Big Day” for Prince William and Kate Middleton. With all the fanfare, the wedding was quite reserved and modest, and to my delight and surprise, Wagner was not to be heard at their wedding. For the record, I love the music and operas of Wagner… but for weddings, Wagner, and especially the Bridal Chorus is just not appropriate and here’s why.
Most people know the Bridal Chorus as “Here Comes the Bride” (which is not the translation of the lyrics). Of course, the boys on the elementary school playground have added “Here comes the bride… all fat and wide”. This alone will deter most brides from choosing this song, knowing that is what nearly every male under 40 will be singing in his head.
The real reason why this song isn’t a good idea is because of the context of the song in the Opera Lohengrin. You can read a more complete synopsis here, but here’s the quick version:
Act 1 – Germans and Hungarians are at war. German King Henry’s young son, Duke Gottfried, is missing. Gottfried’s guardian Telramund accuses Gottfried’s sister Elsa of murdering Gottfried and that he (Tel.) should be made Duke. Elsa pleads her innocense, submits to God’s judgement and sort of “prays” for the champion knight of her dreams. Enter this mysterious, nameless knight in shining armor (named Lohengrin, we find out later) riding on a boat pulled by a swan. Lohengrin says he will defend Elsa’s honor on the condition she never asks him what his name is. Lohengrin defeats but does not kill Tel. End scene.
Act 2 – Tel. and his wife, Ortrud (who is a witch), have now been banished. Ort. plans to get Elsa to violate her promise. Ort. prays to her pagan gods to trick Elsa and return the land to paganism. Nameless knight named Lohengrin is declared to be the new Duke, but he declines the title. Elsa, fearing nameless Lohengrin’s departure at any time (from Ort.’s deceptive suggestion) hooks up with Lohengrin and they plan to get married. Tel. and Ort. try to disrupt the wedding by sneaking in and claiming Lohengrin’s victory was invalid because he did not reveal his name. The King backs nameless knight named Lohengrin. Tel and Ort are left standing outside the Church. End Scene
Act 3 – The chorus begins the act by singing the Bridal Chorus, which sets up a great deal of irony as you will soon see. Elsa and Lohengrin enter the Bridal chamber, they have just been married and are about to consummate their marriage when Elsa (nagged by Ort’s suggestion that she should know her husband’s name) asks nameless husband knight named Lohengrin his name. At that moment Tel. enters the chamber and Lohengrin kills Tel. Lohengrin who didn’t get to answer before being attacked, said he and Elsa will go to the King and he (Lohengrin) will reveal the mystery. Lohengrin reveals his name and that he is a Knight of the Holy Grail and now must leave. He says goodbye to Elsa whom he married and now is abandoning without having consummated his wedding, and begins to leave on the swan pulled boat. Ort. enters and says that the swan is actually Elsa’s missing brother Gottfried. Ort is accused of being a witch… because she is. Lohengrin turns the swan into Gottfried. A dove descends from heaven and pulls Lohengrin’s boat. Elsa grief stricken from the loss of her husband drops dead. End Scene and Cut.
See… the Bridal March, while part of a really cool opera is absolutely not the kind of song you want for your wedding… unless the message you want to send is one of marital infidelity, tragedy, and paganism… and if that’s the case… I’m sure there’s a nice secular wedding chapel that will accommodate you, because really, that’s just about the opposite of the message a Christian Wedding makes.